Black Bear Task Force -
The Fund for Animals, on behalf of its more than 5,000 Maryland members, strongly supports the Maryland Black Bear Task Force recommendations dealing with public education, conservation of black bear habitat, and non-lethal mitigation measures to address bear/human conflicts. However, the recommendations for a bear hunting season and for additional lethal control of bears are short-sighted and ill-conceived for the following reasons:
1. The DNR does not have the biological data necessary to justify the establishment of a bear hunting season. With only 266-437 black bears estimated to exist in the entire state, any hunt or lethal control program could cause significant damage to the bear population. This should be of serious concern considering that the number of adult female productive bears is far lower than the total population estimates and since bears are one of the slowest reproducing mammal species in North America.
2. DNR representatives told the task force that Maryland's bear population could sustain a hunt, but could not provide any data to substantiate that opinion. When asked to provide data, the DNR responded that neighboring states such as Pennsylvania can sustain a bear hunt, so Maryland must be able to sustain one too. Comparing a state like Pennsylvania that has 15,000 bears to a state like Maryland that has a few hundred bears is scientifically flawed at best and intentionally misleading at worst.
3. The task force was convened because Maryland citizens are concerned about bear/human conflicts and want those problems resolved. The recommendation for a bear hunt, however, will not provide relief to the many citizens who want concrete solutions to their problems. While it will provide a recreational opportunity for the small number of people who want to hunt bears for sport or for trophies, and while it may be psychologically soothing to some legislators and officials who want to say they are "doing something" about the bear problem, hunting will not reduce bear/human conflicts.
4. The task force was given no scientific data to suggest a correlation between a reduction in the number of bears and a reduction in bear/human conflicts. The number of bear/human conflicts is likely to fluctuate depending on the annual food availability, the number of people living and recreating near bear habitat, the aggressiveness of public education regarding ways to minimize bear/human conflicts, and other factors. The assumption that a bear hunt will reduce bear/human conflicts is a faulty assumption.
5. The hunt will not reduce bear/human conflicts, because it cannot be designed to target individual "problem" bears and it will not eliminate food sources that attract bears to homes, campsites, dumpsters, and other "problem" areas. Even if a hunt is designed to target "problem" areas, it ignores temporal issues that are critical to resolving bear/human conflicts-if a bear causes damage to corn in June and a hunt begins in October, nothing has been done to alleviate future problems or ensure that the "problem" bear is even still in the vicinity of the conflict. Trying to reduce bear/human conflicts by shooting bears at random for sport or for trophies is like trying to reduce crime by shooting into a crowded room.
6. While the hunt will not provide relief to citizens and farmers experiencing bear problems, it may actually make those problems worse. In states where bears are hunted, hunters tend to take large, adult male bears from the population, leaving the juvenile males more room to expand their range. It is these young juvenile males, searching for alternative food sources, who are more likely to cause problems at homes, campsites, and farms. Hunting is not a solution to a problem, but a commitment to a permanent problem.
7. The hunt would complicate law enforcement efforts and may likely lead to increased poaching of black bears to obtain the bear gall bladders and other valuable parts.
8. The DNR already has the authority to euthanize "repeat offender" problem bears, if aversive conditioning and relocation are ineffective. Such decisions to kill problem animals should be left in the hands of trained professionals after non-lethal measures have been exhausted. These decisions should not be transferred to the public through a general hunting season or through individual "kill permits." Assigning "kill permits" that can be transferred to other parties or used at any time amounts to a de facto hunting season and does not address individual problems in a timely manner.
9. A variety of effective, non-lethal techniques to reduce, eliminate, and/or prevent bear/human conflicts and agricultural damage are available and their use should be expanded. The Fund for Animals supports the DNR's current use of aversive conditioning to teach bears to behave better, public education to teach homeowners and campers to store food and trash properly to prevent attracting bears, and programs that provide assistance to farmers and free electric fencing materials to beekeepers. These techniques should remain the cornerstone of any program to reduce bear/human conflicts. Such programs can be strengthened by state or municipal legislation allocating more funding for bear/human conflict resolution, prohibiting the feeding of bears and other wildlife, and mandating the use of bear-proof trash containers in problem areas.
10. The task force recommendation for a bear hunt relies heavily on "cultural carrying capacity," while recognizing that the bear population is not overpopulated and is nowhere close to reaching its "biological carrying capacity." A more appropriate response than hunting would be to increase public education about black bears and expand non-lethal methods to solve bear/human conflicts, which would increase "cultural carrying capacity" and tolerance for black bears in Maryland.
11. Finally, black bears were nearly extinct in Maryland only 50 years ago. It is a testament to the successful environmental and habitat conservation programs in Maryland that have allowed this unique, majestic species to make a comeback. Maryland citizens are proud of our environmental heritage and our protection of this remarkable species, and a hunting season on black bears would turn back the clock on a half century of success.
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This page last updated April 01, 2003