Maryland's annual bear hunt will begin Oct. 22 with more hunters and the highest quota of bears allowed killed since the hunt was reinstituted after a 50-year hiatus in 2004.
According to Harry Spiker, the bear biologist who runs the hunt for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 340 hunters have been issued tags with a quota set between 80 and 100 bears.
After setting a quota of between 55 and 80 bears last year, a total of 72 were killed. The number of hunters has increased from 260 in 2011.
Last year's hunt lasted four days, one fewer than 2010.
"Last year we held back because the last population estimate was in 2005," Spiker said recently. "The fieldwork had been done in the summer of 2011, but the results did not come back until this July."
The higher quota is in line with what state officials see as a dramatic increase in the adult and sub-adult bear population in Maryland since 2005.
Spiker said that when the data came back last July, the bear population in the areas studied in Garrett and Allegany counties had nearly doubled (from 360 to 701) and is expected to go up again this year. Spiker said that he estimates around 782 adult and sub-adult bears in the state by year's end. (A sub-adult bear is one that is between a year and 18 months old.)
"We're shooting for a 20 to 25 percent overall mortality rate for hunting and nonhunting [road kill]," Spiker said. "Before we were shooting for an 8 to 12 percent hunting mortality. Simply the population has continued to grow. We're seeing more and more sightings statewide, we're getting road kills every year in Montgomery, which we never used to get, or we would get once in five years."
As a result, Spiker said the state is on the verge of listing Montgomery County along with Garrett, Allegany and Frederick counties as those being occupied by bears. There were 53 bear sightings in Frederick County this year and 23 in Montgomery County.
"That Montgomery number has really jumped," Spiker said. "Where we consider that occupied range, we get enough sightings in Montgomery, there's a sow giving birth to cubs somewhere, but we haven't located it yet."
There have also been bear sightings in Baltimore County (five) Harford (four), Carroll (two), Prince George's (two) and Cecil (one).
"The bear population is like a wave moving across from west to east, and right now the crest of the wave is over Allegany County," Spiker said. "It used to be over Garrett. Our goal all along is to allow it to grow, but to slow the growth down. For those folks who thought we would wipe it out with the bear hunt, it's far from that."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun