Black Bear Task Force -
BBTF, Structure, Organization, Methodology/The Problem: A foundation was never established for an efficient, cohesive manner in which to conduct the meetings. Basic things like membership participation and voting rights, including the never-discussed use of proxy votes, the manner in which discussions would be handled i.e., put to a vote or not, quorums, number of votes required to pass a resolution or recommendation. The net result was that some non-voting members were allowed to participate in meetings while others were not. Example: The Farm Bureau had two members participating together in meetings while private citizens (my counterparts) could not. Too much time was spent hashing out who could vote, what was a passing vote, including one lengthy, chaotic discussion concerning recommendations. There were discussions about motions that had been previously voted on. Most, if not all, of the votes were taken incorrectly. A meetings schedule was not set that would have allowed rearranging one's appointments or, indeed, not making them in the first place. An inordinate amount of time was spent discussing anecdotal information; conversely, not enough time was spent discussing the facts. The net result was BBTF recommendations that were made based on factionalism rather than factualism. A misdirected attempt was made to preclude the inclusion of a minority report. Issues were discussed ad infinitum but rarely were the problems defined; thereby resulting in recommendations that missed the mark.
A Solution: For future BBTF's. An agreement should be made at the first meeting as to whom will be participating members, attendance requirements to be eligible to vote, and proxy votes (which I believe are invalid, especially for BBTF recommendations that are discussed after said proxy votes are made). Simply following Robert's Rules will solve most of the other problems including recording "ayes" "nays" and abstentions. A firm hand at the helm will help avoid repetitious recitations of anecdotal information thereby freeing up valuable time to discuss the all-important facts. At the first meeting, techniques for dealing with management concerns should be reviewed. My favorite always has been "The Seven Step Problem Solving Technique" which begins with: "First define the problem." Any new BBTF should begin with the appointment of a neutral person to head it up, someone preferably with little or no interest in black bears if possible, someone from the professional community who has a propensity for getting at the facts; perhaps a lawyer, a businessman or a scientific researcher.
BBTF, First Steps, Missteps/The Problem: During our first meeting in Jan., 2002, Mr. Bob Beyer of the Game Management Program reminded us that we "need events for public opinion surveys." The 1992 report recommended a public opinion survey. The Mission Statement, issues and concerns were all discussed early on without first having discussed unfinished business contained in the 1992 BBTF report in any meaningful way. As a result one of the most important things that we should have done, a public opinion survey, got overlooked until it was too late to do anything. Also, we could have pulled some issues and concerns directly from that report thereby freeing up time to discuss problems. Interviews were given to the press. The comments did not necessarily reflect the views of the BBTF and the subsequent news articles may have created false expectations for the people reading them.
A Solution: Future BBTF's should first review and discuss this report and perhaps even the 1992 report before doing anything else; it will be a timesaver and also should provide a "leg up" towards formulating management recommendations. Avoid giving interviews at all costs; use press releases (approved by BBTF members) instead. This applies especially to the chairperson.
Defining The Problem/The Problem: During our meetings, we discussed many, many issues and concerns but never really homed in on the problem. Example1: The issue for some people was that bears are inherently very dangerous. For others the issue was that they are usually docile and relatively harmless. The problem should be obvious to most people who read this report. But we skirted that problem and instead treated the issues as problems. Example2: The issue for some was that hunting bears would make people safer (the phrase used most often was "We better do something before someone dies.") The issue for others was that hunting bears will not only do nothing to insure safety; it will likely result in a decrease in safety. We didn't define that problem either. Example3: "It's a local issue and should be treated as such" vs. "Bears are a state issue and should come under the purview of the state (DNR). Not defined; not resolved. And then there are all of the other real problems that we didn't address: irresponsible human behavior/nuisance bears, lack of documentation of alleged bear attacks on animals and so-called threats to humans, the bear issue as a political football, slanted news reports and a host of other equally important problems.
A Solution: Lay the issues out side by side; the problem usually becomes evident. Have each side present the facts. Example 1: The facts are: There has never been an unprovoked attack on a human in Maryland, ever! Vs. They scare me! Education is probably the best answer. Example 2: The facts are: Recently there was a tragic event in N.Y. where a five-month-old baby was killed by a bear. There was a two-month bear hunting season extant in N.Y. when that incident occurred. Having a hunting season did nothing to protect that baby. Examine the facts and make decisions that are based on those facts. Example 3: Agreed, it is a local issue and it is also a state (DNR) issue. Discussions about specific bear/human conflicts should be confined to a solution that is based on cooperation between local officials and state officials. Statewide and out of state sportsmen's groups' interests and concerns should not be a major factor in any solution.
Bear Hunt, No Bear Hunt/The Problem: There are those who have very legitimate concerns about crop damage, livestock and small animal safety as well as potential threats to humans. Many of them believe that a bear hunt is the panacea to those problems. Then there are those of us who agree about the concerns but don't believe that countywide (or statewide) hunting is a viable answer. We believe that, in fact, a bear hunt will result in a reduction in safety. This particular problem was never discussed in depth.
A Solution: Even a cursory look at the facts should make it clear to the examiner that a general bear hunt, limited or otherwise is not the answer because it doesn't focus on problem bears. That fact and the safety concerns that some of us have for our families and friends if an influx of hunters is allowed into our communities to "help out with the bear problem" is why a bear hunt is not the answer. According to a study by Rick Bissell, PhD: "In 1990-1999, there were 289 hunting injuries in Maryland and 18 people died from hunting accidents. This is approximately 2 fatalities and 29 injuries each year. Hunting injuries and fatalities would likely increase if Maryland added a bear hunting season." Dr. Bissell also states: "Since 1997, the complaints regarding human safety have actually decreased 8%, at the same time that press coverage drumming up support for a bear hunt has increased." According to DNR there has never been an unprovoked bear attack on a human being in Maryland. Anecdotal information notwithstanding, the problem is not as severe as the hype indicates and can be brought under control with minimal financial costs and no net decrease in public safety. There are many facets to the problem and many aspects to a solution. A next first step should be a continuation of this BTTF; in lieu of that perhaps reconvened after a break. In any case, all of the facts should be carefully examined, the problem(s) identified and possible solutions developed. In that way, I believe the concerns of most interested parties will be addressed to their satisfaction.
General Thoughts: Because the focus and thrust of this BBTF was on the establishment of a bear hunt, many issues were overlooked or not given their due. Following are some random thoughts and ideas that, because of restrictions imposed on the length of this paper, cannot be explained in any detail. They are simply intended as "food for thought". The use of video cameras as a way of documenting human/bear conflicts, sightings, complaints. Can be privately owned or state "loaners". Non-transferable hunting permits issued to farmers and others with documented bear problems. Aversive conditioning training programs for those same people. Meetings between people who have divergent views; role-playing as a tool for understanding the other point of view. Useful information to be gleaned from studying bears. How are bears able to recycle their own urine when they are dormant? Can said information be useful for kidney dialysis patients - - - for space travel; what's the value of that information? Hunting vs. tourism; what are the costs and benefits of having a viable bear population. What part does "just knowing they're out there" play in cultural carrying capacity? How does that impact tourism dollars? Safari type educational programs conducted by DNR or others trained by DNR, for schools or private groups as an educational tool and a way of raising money for wildlife programs. Finally, idle conjectures, anecdotal information, vested interests are generally not conducive to solving problems.
Human/Bear Conflicts - - - One Scenario: Using the example of a report of bears repeatedly getting into a farmer's corn, there are several ways of handling the problem. Step one requires documentation of some sort; either bear sign at the damage site or actual videotaped documentation. The latter would presumably provide more information, especially number of bears. Depending on the facts gathered, the DNR might then opt to use aversive conditioning, translocate (which usually doesn't work), euthanize the bear(s) or issue a restricted hunting permit. Payment for crop damage would, of course, be included with any of those steps as long as bears remained a generally protected species. The farmer could also decide to take the compensation and leave the rest up to the DNR. The method used would be worked out between the farmer and the DNR representative. Sans certain overriding conditions, the choice of the farmer should be given the greater weight. The overriding conditions might be that issuing a restricted hunting permit would infringe on the rights of a neighbor and certainly safety of a neighbor would have to be taken into consideration. Ideally, steps used to mitigate (or eliminate) the problem would begin with the least intrusive, least lethal method and gradually be ramped up. Marking bears with paintballs if possible would help identify specific nuisance bears. Any restricted hunting permit would be issued only to the farmer or an immediate family member and could be for a specific time period or unlimited time period at the discretion of DNR. Said permits would not be transferable. If a farmer is unable (poor shot) to exercise his right to hunt a particular nuisance bear then the method of dealing with it would revert back to the DNR.
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This page last updated April 01, 2003