- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Most of Western Maryland’s black bears will never roam far enough to be spotted in the southern parts of the state or near Washington and Baltimore.

But the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has nine 30-gallon plastic bins on wheels full of everything that children, museums and schools could need for better understanding of black bears.

“I feel like it’s a hidden jewel,” says Linda Coulombe, biologist and manager of science programs at the National Children’s Museum in Washington. She has been borrowing the boxes, provided free of charge, for more than three years. “They do the research for you, and you know that when it comes from Maryland DNR, it’s correct and it’s the current status of that animal.”

Seven years ago, state biologists and educators joined to organize the program and decide what needed to go into the bins. Now students and children who see the museum’s traveling exhibits can hold a real black bear hide, plastic skull and replicas of bear scat.

The Department of Natural Resources has also created a slide show and video as part of a lesson plan for educators to use with students of all grades. The kits help children who have never seen a bear understand the animal’s habitat, range and actions and how they behave toward humans.

“Teachers love them. They’re a great little learning tool,” says Bob Beyer, DNR associate director. “It’s easy to use. It doesn’t take a lot of time for teachers to get up to speed, and then they can rock and roll.”

After just a few years, Mr. Beyer said three more trunks were built to bring the total to nine because Scouts, home-schoolers and other groups including seniors wanted to use the boxes.

Now the department has also created white-tailed deer kits that can educate state residents about the animals.

Patty Allen is the scheduler who keeps track of where the boxes are and where they’re going. She also updates the materials inside, and she said 55 groups used the deer and bear boxes. More than 9,000 students have seen one or both of the programs.

“I’ve used them both to dust,” Miss Coulombe said. “You should see how kids and parents react when we pull out a bear pelt. When you hand them a bear claw, the questions start coming. Even kids who have seen a deer have never touched a deer pelt or deer skull. For an informal education, it creates such a tremendous environment.”


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