ACCIDENT -- A task force proposal for a limited hunt of black bears in Western Maryland drew about 100 people -- many of them farmers, beekeepers and others contending with nuisance bears -- to a meeting here last night.
The meeting at Northern High School in this Garrett County town was the first opportunity for those dealing with problem bears to voice their concerns publicly.
Many said they supported the task force recommendations, which, along with allowing a limited hunt in problem areas in Garrett and Allegany counties, would compensate farmers for livestock and crop damage and continue public education about black bears.
"I think there's widespread support for a limited bear hunt," said Lee Osmansky, a member of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen's Association, which represents 35 hunting clubs.
"People like the idea," he said. "Many people say they can support a hunt and a compensation program. We hope the rest of the state will support a bear hunt."
Mr. Osmansky, who served on the citizen task force, said that not everyone on the panel endorsed the recommendations.
However, "most of us feel [it] is really a good start on how to work with this problem," he said.
Among those challenging the recommendations was D. J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist representing the Fund for Animals.
Mr. Schubert, also a task force member, said the state does not have the biological data to support even a limited bear hunt.
He said the state should pursue other alternatives to raise money to compensate farmers and others for damage done by black bears.
Under the task force recommendations, fees from the sale of hunting licenses and lottery applications would finance a compensation program. Hunters would be chosen by lottery
Mr. Schubert suggested the state sell wildlife license plates and stamps to raise that money.
"The idea that bears are either good or bad is subjective," he said. "People who live here in this beautiful area have to recognize that the bears are not living in their homes but that they're living in the bears' homes."
State officials estimate that more than 200 bears roam Western Maryland, primarily in Garrett and Allegany.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials said nuisance problems range from the bears ravaging cornfields, killing livestock and destroying bird feeders to getting into garbage cans and scaring people.
Generally, the state relocates nuisance bears. Occasionally, chronic nuisance bears are destroyed.
The state destroyed a bear last month at a farm in Gorman after a sow killed sheep there.
State Sen. John J. Hafer, a Republican who represents Allegany and Garrett, said many of his constituents have complained about the bears over the years.
Mr. Hafer said many people choose to tell elected officials about bears rather than the Department of Natural Resources. He also said many dispute the state's estimate of the black bear population, figuring the number is higher.
Asked whether the rest of state would support the task force recommendations, Mr. Hafer said, "They don't live with the bears."
He added, "If we don't address this issue legally, it will be taken care of illegally."
Dorothy Dateo, a Frostburg State University graduate student who has been studying the range and habitat of female black bears, said the state should conduct another study to accurately determine the population before permitting any hunting.
"I do not believe that euthanizing nuisance animals solves problems of livestock depredation," she said. "Aversive conditioning, proper protection and disposal of livestock or relocation are more effective options."
Other public meetings on the task force recommendations will be held this month in Timonium, Easton and Annapolis.