ANNAPOLIS – Animal rights activists charged Wednesday that a proposed bear hunting season is less about wildlife supervision than about a political quid pro quo.
“This is not about bear management,” said Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States’ senior vice president of government affairs, at a news conference. “This is about a political payback to the National Rifle Association.”
Pacelle and other animal rights supporters were supporting a bill before the House Environmental Matters Committee to impose a six-year moratorium on bear hunting in Maryland.
Delegate Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, introduced the bill after the Department of Natural Resources announced it would lift a 50-year hunting ban this fall to reduce bear road-kills, nuisance complaints and damage to property.
“No one will be honest enough to say that this is just a trophy hunt,” Frush. “Somebody somewhere will have 30 bearskin rugs on their floor.”
But that assertion is false, said Paul Peditto, director of the department’s Wildlife & Heritage Service.
“That’s positively unfounded,” Peditto said.
The measure was part of the recommendations of a bear management task force appointed by former Gov. Parris Glendening, he added.
According to agency figures, 38 bears were struck by vehicles and $40,000 worth of crop and property damage was incurred last year. In 2002, 364 nuisance complaints were filed.
To cull this growing problem, the department said, it will issue licenses to about 200 sportsmen to kill 30 bears, or 7.5 percent of the estimated 400 bears in the state.
However, said Frush, people cause many of their own bear problems when they feed them, leave trash uncovered, and commit other unwise practices.
“I think it’s the instinct of the animal versus the stupidity of the people that causes the problems,” said Frush. “They’ve become nuisances because we’ve created nuisances.”
Frush also said the department needs to be more certain of the bear population figures, to consider non-lethal alternatives and to impose tighter oversight measures to ensure that no more than the proposed 30 animals are killed.
The delegate pointed to bear hazing techniques successfully applied in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. by Steve Searles, a bear expert who discussed his methods at the news conference.
Searles’ techniques include using rubber bullets, pepper spray and even noisemakers, some of which Peditto said the department routinely employs.
However, Peditto said, Searles’ techniques were used in an area with a different bear density than Maryland, which has about 400 bears in about 1,000 square miles in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.
“We can’t use that tool in this landscape,” Peditto said.
Activists said they were also concerned public opinion was overlooked in the administration’s haste to promote hunting interests. The agency, they said, announced its plans before the public comment period concluded Feb. 13.
“This is indicative of how much disregard this agency has for public input,” said Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals.
Opponents of the legislation said the department is doing a good job of managing the state’s resources, however, and said they fear the bill would strip the agency of its authority.
“We feel this bill is not about bear hunting,” said Steve Huettner, president of the 12,000-strong Maryland Sportsmen’s Association. “It’s about who is going to manage Maryland’s Resources.”
“We feel DNR (officials) are the ones who should be making this decision and this bill would take that power away from them.”