Groups oppose bear season, Sunday deer hunting

Anti-hunting groups urged a House committee yesterday to continue a 50-year ban on a black bear season and block a request from sportsmen and state wildlife biologists to allow Sunday deer hunting on private land.

The groups, ranging from the Fund for Animals to equestrian clubs, said the Department of Natural Resources had not used every nonlethal option to manage the two animals.

Allowing Sunday hunting would scare off other recreational users, who outnumber hunters 10-to-1, on nearby public land while a bear hunt might harm a still-recovering population, they told the Environmental Matters Committee.

Last year, the legislature approved a bill authorizing one Sunday of hunting, but it was vetoed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who noted safety concerns. Those fears were echoed at the hearing.

Nancy Perry of the Humane Society of the United States said that restricting hunting to private lands in rural counties would do nothing to ensure the safety of hikers, birders and others on adjacent public lands.

"Bullets know no boundaries," she said.

Anne Bennof of Trail Riders of Today equestrian club asked to retain the status quo.

"Everybody deserves a weekend day," said Bennof of Carroll County. "They get Saturday and we get Sunday."

But Paul Peditto, who heads the DNR Wildlife and Heritage Division, urged lawmakers to allow the addition of as many as seven Sundays during the season, which falls in November and December.

"We have too many deer in this state," he said. "We have a quarter of a million deer in a landscape built for half that."

Peditto said biologists are using the recommendations from the Glendening administration's Non-Lethal Task Force. However, some options - such as fencing roads to reduce collisions - were too expensive, while others, such as contraceptives, are "to put it bluntly, not ready for prime time," he said.

He noted that despite adding seasons for archery and muzzleloaders and allowing hunters to kill an unlimited number of does in Central Maryland, the population continues to increase.

The bill to ban a bear hunt until 2009 would allow time to complete a study of the population, estimated at 400 animals, said Del. Barbara Frush, a Prince George's County Democrat and one of the bill's sponsors.

Three groups have recommended a hunt: a 1992 Black Bear Task Force, the Wildlife Advisory Commission appointed by Glendening in 2000, and another task force appointed by Glendening last year.

However, supporters of the bill said none of the previous reports contained a detailed population study.

Del. George C. Edwards, a Republican who represents Garrett and Allegany counties - the heart of bear country - complained that the bill would tie the hands of wildlife managers.

The legislation is being pushed by delegates from Montgomery and Prince George's counties who know little of his district's bear problems, Edwards said. "If we want to keep saying 'the state of Maryland,' let's trap the bears and spread them out so you all can enjoy them and you can get the phone calls I get," he said.

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