ANNAPOLIS – Animal protection agencies defended a lawsuit filed Monday to block Maryland’s first black bear hunt in half a century, saying flawed science and a governor tied to hunting organizations led to the hunt’s approval.
The hunt, scheduled for the last week in October and the second week in December, will kill a maximum of 30 bears in an effort to curb an expanding bear population.
In authorizing the hunt, the Department of Natural Resources “relied on glaringly faulty scientific assumptions concerning Maryland’s bear population,” said the suit, filed by the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society and three citizens.
DNR declined to comment, but Paul Peditto, DNR director of Wildlife and Heritage Service, said in an interview two weeks ago that the public has supported its decision.
Hunting is needed, he said, to check the state’s growing bear population – one that has rebounded in Maryland from near extinction in the 1950s.
“It’s part of a model that works though history and continues to play a role in the modern wildlife management model,” he said.
But the plaintiffs said the bear hunt is unnecessary.
“The tradition in Maryland has been to protect bears . . . all we’re asking here is to maintain the status quo,” said Michael Markarian, Fund for Animals president. The state’s studies estimating the black bear population at 400 were flawed, he said.
The suit cites a study by statistician Phillip Good who reported the DNR used two different methods to estimate bear populations between 1992 and 2000, and therefore could not rely on its conclusions.
Bear populations may not have changed much, said Markarian.
“The only thing that has changed is the person who sits in the State House.”
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, he said, has tried to appease the National Rifle Association and other hunting organizations by approving the hunt.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Shareese DeLeaver, Ehrlich’s press secretary.
“(The hunt) isn’t based on a quid pro quo for any groups or organizations that supported him,” she said, adding that the governor relied on scientific studies to determine the need for the hunt.
But the DNR knows very little about the bears, said Markarian.
“You need to do a lot more homework before you can rush to judgment and allow hunters to kill those animals.”
A more effective and sensitive solution, he said, would be to manage conflicts instead of numbers. He suggested homeowners store trash, take down bird feeders and refrain from feeding their dogs outside.
The state Attorney General’s Office will represent DNR in the case, however it declined to comment on the suit.
“Their suit is not about trying to save 30 bears,” said Steven Christian, president of the Maryland Sportsmen’s Association, “It’s about preventing hunters from killing bears.”
The Fund for Animal’s opposition to hunting would have fueled a dispute even if the hunt targeted only a few bears, he said.
“There is no question that you have a very strong hunter cohort out there that wants this hunt,” said Joseph Lamp, who served on the Wildlife Advisory Commission for the DNR and opposed the bear hunt.
The bears have posed no serious threat, he said, based on complaints that he reviewed.
Referring to the questioned population studies, he said, “If we don’t know how many we have, how do we know we have too many?”
The suit comes as the DNR notifies the winners of last week’s lottery, which determined who could participate in the hunt. Only 200 of the more than 2,300 people who applied will receive permits.
Markarian still questions DNR’s motives.
“It doesn’t help anybody except for the few people who want a bearskin rug.”