2 Out Of 3 Marylanders Support Regulated Hunting
Of Black Bears According To Independent Research Survey
Overwhelming Support in Western Maryland
ANNAPOLIS — Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Marylanders support regulated hunting as a way to control the state’s growing black bear population, according to a recently completed public opinion survey.
The 180-page survey fulfills one of the primary recommendations of the Black Bear Task Force, a 12-member group of public and private citizens representing a diverse range of ideological beliefs. The task force was particularly interested in determining public opinion of bears in Maryland.
“The results provide us extraordinary insight into the public’s understanding and interest in this great species,” said Paul A. Peditto, Director of Wildlife & Heritage Service for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “We were particularly pleased that the majority of individuals believe, as we do, that we should have black bears in Maryland; and a majority felt our agency is doing a good job of managing our native bear population.”
The task force recommended that the Department conduct an opinion survey to determine the perceptions, desires, and attitudes of people in Maryland concerning black bears.
Responsive Management, based in Harrisonburg, Va., conducted the study in June 2004. The survey results are based on a sample of more than 800 Marylanders. Respondents were asked questions about their contacts with black bears, attitudes toward black bears, strategies to avoid black bear nuisance behavior and their opinion of regulated hunting of black bears.
Representative samples from each region of the state were included in the survey. In addition to the statewide results that confirmed solid support for hunting as a humane management tool for black bears, the survey results also demonstrated that more than three-quarters (78%) of Allegany and Garrett County respondents support regulated hunting as a way to control the state black bear population.
The DNR has proposed a limited bear hunt this fall. If adopted, permit restrictions on hunters would limit the total harvest to 30 bears, or 8% of the total bear population. While there are breeding black bear populations across all of Western Maryland and bears frequent parts of Central Maryland, the hunt would be restricted to Garrett County and a portion of Allegany County, where bear populations are most dense.
According to a DNA-based research study conducted in 2000, there are approximately 27 bears per 100 square miles of bear habitat in Western Maryland --- a figure that equals or exceeds that of Maryland’s neighboring states and is more than double the 1991 population density estimate. Additionally, the regional bear population, that includes Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia has experienced steady population growth; from 14,450 bears in 1993 to more than 37,000 bears in 2003. Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia all have limited bear hunting opportunities.
Habitat protection has been a key component of the Department’s bear management plan for the past ten years. Maryland’s growing bear population continues its climb but not without human conflict.
“Our bear management plan underscores our strong commitment to the successful bear habitat conservation and protection measures that make this the conservation success story it is today; however, we remain concerned about the social impacts of our growing bear population,” said DNR Black Bear Project Leader Harry Spiker. “Less than 15 years ago we documented one bear killed on Maryland roads; today we average more than 30 automobile accidents with bears each year. The data not only indicate a growing bear population but dictate we take proactive steps to limit the growth and expansion of our bear population.”
While the survey demonstrates a need for additional black bear education and outreach to suburban and urban Marylanders, the results showed Western Region respondents have substantial knowledge of black bears in Maryland. Specifically, 44% of Western Region respondents said they know a great deal or moderate amount about black bears in Maryland, a percentage that far exceeds the percentage of respondents from any other region of the State.
“The results demonstrate that the people who live with black bears every day have become knowledgeable about the status of this charismatic species; as our bear populations expand eastward toward Central Maryland we will need to reach out to that wider audience to ensure an informed citizenry across Maryland. This strategy will be one of the keys to the success of our new bear management plan,” Spiker added.
The findings of this survey will be used to finalize the new 10-year Black Bear Management Plan, due to be completed later this summer. To view the public opinion survey in its entirety, or to learn more about Maryland’s black bear population, go to http://www.dnr.maryland.gov/dnrnews/infocus/blackbears.asp