- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

He’s 82 years old, spry as a young rooster and lives in rural Allegany County in Western Maryland. Whenever the black bears don’t interfere, K.O. Nelson likes to raise honeybees and flowers or — depending on the time of year — do a little hunting and fishing.

But the bears are absolutely ruining Nelson’s days at a time when state wildlife officials find themselves in a quandary about what to do with a burgeoning bear population, particularly in Garrett and Allegany counties.

After decades of protecting black bears and not allowing the hunting of the bruins, the Department of Natural Resources decided to have a bear-hunting season last year. But after the first day, when 20 black bears were bagged so quickly, the DNR apparently was frightened enough to close the bear “season.”

Twenty bears made little impact as far as the overall bear population is concerned. But wildlife professionals increasingly are being forced to listen and even react to the emotional, meaningless rhetoric of animal-rights activists who fought the proposed 2004 bear hunt with every tactic they could devise. In a way they won; the way the state’s hunters interpreted the quick cessation of the hunt, the DNR, afraid of negative publicity, caved to the objectors.

Enter Nelson, who lives in bear country and who is irked with the gripes about “heartless animal killers” by people who speak from the safety of a District- or Baltimore-area dwelling, where the only bear that might be seen lives in a zoo. Instead, Nelson stares the problem in the eye — literally.

“Three years ago, I had eight hives of bees,” he said. “Then after the first bear attack, I salvaged three hives. Last year [there was] another attack, and I was wiped out. I bought two hives this past spring and thought I would try again. On the nights of June1, 2, 3 and 4, the bear was back. He or she would upset only one of the two hives each night. I straightened up the mess each of the following mornings, and I was able to save the two hives, although they are now in a weakened state.

“[On a Sunday] the bear came in the evening while we were out. We came home before dark, around 6:30, and he had already been here. Today, Sunday the 5th [of June], I set up one of my 10 -by-10-foot dog pens with an electric fence around it. If this doesn’t work, don’t expect any honey this fall.”

In a letter to his son, Brent, a popular fishing guide who lives in the Washington suburbs, Nelson asked tongue-in-cheek if anything was being done to chase all the bears downstate.

“We have deer that eat our flowers and vegetables, bears that wreck our bee hives, and we have rattlesnakes,” he wrote. “Maybe we should move downstate. I’m still tryin’ to grin and ‘bear’ it!”

A week later, son Brent received another note from Dad. “Just wanted to report that the bear was back on Monday night and got past the electric wire and into the enclosure. All my equipment was smashed,” he wrote.

“I am finished with bee keeping until something is done about the bear population. There’ll be no honey for all my friends this year.” [Signed] K.O.”

Now here’s a piece of advice: Don’t send K.O. Nelson a blank application to join the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. And if you work for the DNR, you’re probably not welcome, either.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, where wildlife officials don’t mind a vigorous bear hunt in late November and December, bear sightings — and encounters — are increasing. With a healthy and growing black bear population, seeing bears during the summer months is not unusual, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says. Of course, bears showing up in areas where they are not commonly seen can cause quite a stir, such as the bruin that got inside a Blue Ridge house a week or so ago and wrecked nearly every stick of furniture in it.

While the highest concentration of bears occurs in the Blue Ridge and Alleghany Mountains and around the Great Dismal Swamp, bears are likely to be seen just about anywhere in the state, the VDGIF warns.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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