Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration has rejected a proposal to open a black bear hunting season in Western Maryland this year, and some think the issue is dead as long as he remains governor.
"There is not going to be a bear hunting season this year," Timothy W. Lambert, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, said yesterday. He and others met with state officials on the issue this week.
Western Maryland's burgeoning bear population led to the call for a limited bear hunting season this fall. Rural residents, farmers and beekeepers from the area have complained the bears are a destructive nuisance.
In calling for a hunting season, the sportsmen's group noted estimates from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that Maryland's bear population has doubled -- from 200 to 400 -- since 1995.
Western Maryland legislators -- who have been pushing for a limited bear hunt to curb the population -- said they were disappointed, but not surprised, that there will be no bear hunting season again this year.
"It's typical DNR dragging their feet because, politically, they can't afford to do what's right on this issue," said state Sen. John J. Hafer, a Republican whose district encompasses Garrett and Allegany counties and who favors bear hunts.
"Not under the present leadership will the state offer a bear hunt," he said.
But the Humane Society, environmentalists and others say there are still too few bears in Maryland to warrant allowing what they call "trophy hunting" by those seeking pelts to mount on their walls.
"There's no reason that 4.5 million Marylanders can't tolerate 300 to 500 bears," said Wayne Pacelle, a vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. "Governor Glendening has made the right decision, the humane decision. We applaud him for retaining the long-standing policy in Maryland of protecting these remarkable animals."
Lambert said that he, another member of his group and a Maryland Farm Bureau official met with Glendening's deputy chief of staff and a state wildlife official Tuesday to discuss bear hunting.
Lambert said the group agreed there is not enough time to get regulations adopted to allow a two-day bear hunt this fall, as originally proposed. However, he said his group still hopes one will be permitted next year. The hunters would be chosen by lottery
"The facts on the table right now suggest we need a bear season," Lambert said. "If this decision is made based on facts rather than emotion, we will have a bear season. We were disappointed that we weren't able to get it through for this upcoming season because the residents out there need relief now."
Emily H. Wilson, assistant director of governmental relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, said her impression from the meeting was that the Glendening administration is not likely to approve a bear hunting season next year. "We were encouraged to look into alternatives to a limited hunting season, which indicates to me the prospects look kind of bleak," Wilson said. "They said to try to look at alternatives. To me, it's a polite way of saying, 'Forget it.' "
DNR spokesman John Surrick said the final decision on allowing a bear hunt rests with DNR Secretary Sarah Taylor-Rogers. He said she has made no decision on whether one will be permitted next year, or in the future.
Michelle Byrnie, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the decision is up to Taylor-Rogers. "She will consult with him [Glendening], certainly, and solicit his views," Byrnie said. "It's all part of the decision-making process."
Hafer and others, though, said Taylor-Rogers is bound to follow the governor's wishes.
"It's clear to me that the governor is calling the shots," Hafer said. "He could do the right thing, but he's choosing not to."
Bonnie F. Kelley, a Garrett County resident who serves on the Maryland Wildlife Advisory Commission, said she thinks the issue is being decided on the basis of politics, rather than sound wildlife management principles.
The commission voted in February to recommend that DNR approve a limited bear season.
"I do think it's a political issue," Kelley said. "Your votes are in the east. Garrett County has little in the way of leverage, so why would the governor listen to someone who doesn't have any political clout? It's different if you live in this community."
"We are not looking to annihilate the population," the Farm Bureau's Wilson said. "We are looking to manage it properly, at a tolerable level, as the surrounding states all have."
Pennsylvania and West Virginia, states that border Western Maryland, have bear hunting seasons. Bear hunting has been illegal in Maryland since 1953.
Bear-hunt opponents note that farmers can get compensation for some of their losses through money raised by the state's bear stamp program. Residents pay $5 for a stamp that helps fund the program. They also say such problems are one of the prices paid for those living in rural areas that are habitats for bears.