State wildlife officials are being asked to consider a limited hunt in parts of Allegany and Garrett counties to control a black bear population that is increasingly damaging crops and livestock in the Maryland mountains.
The proposal -- which would require General Assembly approval -- is one of three recommendations a citizens task force is expected to issue today to address nuisance bear problems in those counties. Public meetings on the recommendations are to be conducted next month in Accident, Timonium, Easton and Annapolis.
The task force, made up of hunters, environmentalists, farmers, beekeepers and an animal rights activist, also recommended farmers and landowners be fully compensated for bear damage. Additionally, the task force calls for a continuation of state education programs on bears and technical assistance for beekeepers. (The state provides electrical fencing to protect the hives from bears).
Tom Mathews, state game management program manager, expects strong attendance for the meetings, saying: "There's a lot of public interest in black bears. They're a charismatic species. There are a lot of people interested in hunting bears. Almost anybody you ask can identify with a black bear one way or another."
Black bears all but disappeared from Maryland in the 1970s, but number more than 200 today, primarily in Garrett and Allegany counties, but also in remote areas of Washington and Frederick counties.
Mr. Mathews said a hunt would be limited to areas of Allegany and Garrett counties where bears have posed a nuisance. Hunters, he said, would be chosen by lottery and would pay application and hunting fees, which would finance the compensation program.
Josh Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division, said wildlife officials would review success rates in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where bear hunting has been allowed for decades, before determining the number of hunters. Assuming legislative approval, a limited Maryland hunt could occur in late fall or early winter of next year, he said.
HTC The proposed hunt and compensation were welcome news to Lee Shillingburg, a Gorman farmer who lost sheep to a female bear earlier this month. State DNR biologists destroyed the bear, one of three bears taken and killed from Mr. Shillingburg's farm during the past three years.
"We need some relief," he said, noting he has lost about 45 sheep -- at a cost of $4,800 -- since May. "Bears are coming out of our ears up here. A lot of people have bear problems that don't even bother calling DNR."