GOOD NEWS for Maryland black bears: Their numbers have mushroomed from barely 12 in 1956 to more than 400. Each year, more are coming to Garrett County from neighboring states.
Bad news for Western Maryland residents: Human encounters with these 500-pounders are still on the rise. Complaints of black bear problems, mostly trash-barrel and farming damages, soared 50 percent in the past two years.
Resisting political pressure to allow bear hunting (as does Pennsylvania), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is relying on education and on a bear-damage compensation fund financed by sales of a bear conservation stamp.
The $5 bear stamp, issued last year, failed to raise the target $20,000. Conservationists say the marketing effort was weak and should improve this year. But there's no reason the state treasury can't help cover damages.
Ways to foil and coexist with bears are well-known to residents of Garrett and other western counties. Much of the problem, however, comes from uncaring, uninformed tourists and second-home builders drawn to the mountains of Western Maryland. Many newcomers treat the wild bear as a cartoon character in Jellystone Park.
DNR needs to step up bear relocation plans that have helped in other states. The proposal is still under study, but state officials are wary of moving bears to areas where residents are opposed.
Citizens of Garrett County don't have that choice. As lush habitat and abundant human garbage support more black bears there, residents need prompt, effective state relief. The county also must require bear-proof trash receptacles and enforce this rule.
Pub Date: 6/07/98