ANNAPOLIS – Bear hunting isn’t necessary and deer hunting on Sundays would end the only day of peace for hikers, opponents of plans to extend Maryland’s hunting seasons told lawmakers at a packed hearing Wednesday.
But in the standing-room crowd of about 100 at the House Environmental Matters Committee, Garrett County residents shared their stories about close bear encounters, arguing that the animals need to be controlled.
Robert Alan O’Brien, a longtime Garrett County resident, said bears have broken into his Swanton home on several occasions. In one incident last year, a bear entered his house while a babysitter and his three children were home, and carried out a 50-pound box of confectionery wafers and a bread loaf, O’Brien said.
“In all my years, I’ve never seen a bear in Garrett County until last year,” O’Brien said. “Up until then, I thought bears were cute, cuddly and adorable. I was against bear hunting.”
Likewise, Garrett County Commissioner Wendell R. Beitzel said he installed electric fencing around his property to keep away the bears.
“I enjoy seeing them,” Beitzel said. “But they’re getting to be so many of them. If there were a hunt, they would keep their distance.”
The bill would end a nearly 50-year ban on bear hunting in Maryland. Under the bill, the Department of Natural Resources would be required to adopt regulations establishing a limited bear hunt to control the growing population, mostly in Western Maryland. The law prohibits killing bears except in the case of self-defense or protecting livestock.
The department opposes a hunt because the bear population does not exceed the region’s capacity for the animal to sustain a livable habitat, said Paul Peditto, director of the department’s Wildlife and Heritage Service.
Groups such as Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club, among others, also oppose a bear hunt. They said a random hunt would not necessarily kill off an individual nuisance bear and that the bill neglects nonlethal methods to control the animal.
“If you want to get rid of nuisance bear, aversive conditioning is the simplest, most effective method to use,” said Susan Solarz, a Silver Spring resident.
Also, the state should not resort to a bear hunt just because some residents in Western Maryland don’t want to use special trash receptacles or take down birdfeeders at night, said Mark Markarian, executive vice president of the Fund for Animals.
In a similar exchange, supporters and opponents of the Sunday deer hunt debated over the bill’s purpose. Under the bill, the deer hunting season for firearms would be extended from 13 to 21 days and would include up to three Sundays, an exemption to the current state law.
Excluded from Sunday deer hunts would be Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s and parts of Frederick counties and the cities of Baltimore and Frederick.
The Maryland Farm Bureau backed an extension for the firearms season, arguing it would further help cull deer herds in the state and reduce extensive crop damage, however, it opposes Sunday hunts.
But others like Steven Huettner, of the Maryland Sportsmen’s Association, said he cannot understand why farmers cannot kill deer on their own property on a Sunday.
“Maryland’s motto is that we are a free state,” Huettner said.
Several residents said they oppose the Sunday hunts because it takes away the only day horse riders, hikers and picnickers can enjoy the outdoors during a hunting season. The bill also opens the door for bow and muzzleloader hunters to ask for Sunday deer hunts as well, opponents said.
“Don’t you think,” said Pat McElroy of Silver Spring, “eventually they want a chance to kill on Sundays?”