ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wednesday took animal activists’ $75,000 bait, but slipped the trap, at least for now.
The department accepted a funding offer from two animal rights groups, but rejected their central demand — halting a bear hunt slated for October.
“They can’t have it both ways,” said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.
The society and Fund for Animals made the offer in a March 17 letter, saying they would provide the funds to compensate farmers for bear damage and to expand educational programs for solving bear-human conflicts. But the “gift” hinged on DNR’s stopping what would be the first black bear hunt in Maryland since 1953. The proposal will be withdrawn if that demand isn’t met, the groups said.
“The offer we made was clearly tied to no bear hunting,” said Fund for Animals’ Michael Markarian. “(It) is only available if bears continue to be protected as they have been for half a century.”
The department blithely ignored the provision, saying it will gladly take the money, but will not budge from its plans for a fall hunting season.
“While we may not agree on the hunting regulation proposal,” said DNR Wildlife & Heritage Service Director Paul Peditto. “I hope that the Fund for Animals and Humane Society of the United States’ commitment to assist us is sincere.”
Peditto also said the department hoped the groups would continue “financial and philosophical support” for other “non-lethal and education strategies” in DNR’s bear management plan.
Under the proposed hunt, hunters could bag 30 of the 266 to 437 bears concentrated in Garrett and Allegany counties during weeklong seasons in October and December.
Up to 200 permits would be distributed among applicants through a lottery. Hunters would have to hold a current license and pay between $5 and $30 to apply, excluding the cost of the permit. Permit costs have not been established.
Each permit holder would be allowed a partner and each group would be restricted to one kill per season.
The hunt is part of a bear management plan meant to address the estimated 150 annual bear nuisance reports and crop damage that has run up to $41,000 annually.
But lawmakers, environmentalists and human rights groups say the state cannot sustain a bear hunt, and the plan is nothing more than political payback to the National Rifle Association and hunting interests for their support of Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
“There are fewer black bears in Maryland than there are pandas in China,” Pacelle said. “We are absolutely flabbergasted that DNR would reject this offer because they are so committed to appeasing trophy hunters.”
But Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor’s support of the measure is “based on science and nothing else.”
“The scientific experts have determined that (the hunt) is a proper form of population control,” said Fawell.
The state’s black bear population was near extinction in the 1950s and in 1953 the General Assembly imposed a 50-year moratorium on state bear hunting.
This year, Delegate Barbara Frush, D-Anne Arundel, introduced legislation to continue the bear hunting delay until 2010, but the bill was killed in the House Environmental Matters Committee.