Black Bear Task Force -
I strongly support the recommendations of the 2002 Black Bear Task Force (BBTF) to the Maryland DNR to initiate or enhance programs to 1) identify, protect, and conserve black bear habitat, 2) monitor outdoor recreational demands that negatively impact black bear habitat, 3) determine the cultural carrying capacity (CCC) for black bears for each county, 4) establish a black bear population objective for each county, 5) educate the public on black bear behavior and ways to reduce human-bear conflicts, 6) maintain detailed records of complaints about and damage by black bears, 7) replace the Black Bear Conservation Stamp program with an annual appropriation from the General Assembly for payment of bear damage claims, 8) provide "kill permits" to individuals experiencing persistent damage to property caused by individual bears, 9) develop an emergency plan that can be implemented immediately in the extremely rare event of a bear attack on a human, and 10) conduct a carefully constructed, scientific survey of public attitudes on the black bear.
At this time I do not support a hunting season on black bears for the following reasons.
1) We have 1 rigorously conducted estimate of the black bear population in western Maryland in the last 10 years. The population has not been carefully and systematically monitored for dispersal of young, recruitment rates, etc. The 2000 study conducted by Maryland DNR generated a point estimate of 227 bears for the 830 mi2 west of Cumberland (27.3 bears per 100 mi2), which does not differ significantly from the 150-170 bears estimated for the 600 mi2 of Garrett County (25.0-28.3 bears per 100 mi2) approximately 10 years earlier (see the January 1992 Maryland DNR Black Bear Management Plan). This suggests that the number of black bears in western Maryland, at least west of Cumberland, may not be increasing as generally assumed.
2) Incidents such as the number of sightings, bear-vehicle collisions, etc. are not reliable for estimating and monitoring black bear populations because they are necessarily biased by increases in road mileage, traffic, encroachment on bear habitat by human activities (development, recreation) and the associated increased availability of human food (garbage), etc. Such incidents would be expected to rise over time even for a stable bear population. In 2001 biologists from the University of Nevada-Reno reported that in the Sierra-Nevada since 1990 annual citizen complaints of bears had increased by 625% and the number of bears hit by vehicles annually had increased by 1350%, despite only a modest increase in the Nevada black bear population (currently estimated at 140-460 individuals). The increase in incidents was largely attributed to increased human activity and population in the Reno-Carson City area and bears traveling more in search of human food (garbage) that they have learned is increasingly available. Therefore, claims that the Maryland bear population must be increasing rapidly because sightings and encounters are increasing must be viewed with caution. Also, incidents, sometimes unsubstantiated by physical evidence, have been sensationalized in the local press or reported more than once and from other regions of the country, giving the impression of a larger number of unpleasant encounters than actually exists.
3) A bear hunt does not appear to be the most effective strategy for reducing human-bear conflicts because it does not specifically target problem or nuisance bears. "Kill permits" would seem to be more effective.
4) Western Maryland has a low density of black bears compared to other eastern states with a hunt or that are considering a hunt. For example, portions of northern New Jersey for which a hunt has been proposed have a density of 2 bears per mi2, approximately 5-10X our density in western Maryland. Our bears are along the eastern extreme of the species' range in this region, and the population is small and potentially more prone to fluctuations than larger and more established bear populations.
5) The argument that a hunting season would prevent black bear attacks on humans cannot justify a season. Bears are not aggressive, such attacks are extraordinarily rare, and the emotionalism associated with bear encounters is disproportionate to the actual threat to personal safety. The extremely infrequent attacks on humans often result from bears habituated to humans, something education would address.
6) Property damage done by bears is inconsequential compared to that caused by other forms of wildlife and does not justify nor likely will be eliminated by a black bear hunting season. Agricultural claims have not risen linearly since the Black Bear Conservation Stamp program was initiated; claims were greatest in 1997 and dropped dramatically in 1998-2000 before rebounding some in 2001. Damage to crops and livestock might be reduced with more incentive to discourage bears.
7) We have no idea of the diversity of attitudes towards bears and bear management that the public possesses, or how these attitudes vary regionally. Public attitudes should be recognized and weighed in any management decision, including establishing a hunting season and regulations. I believe it is premature to recommend a regulated hunting season on black bears before public attitudes have been measured and carefully analyzed. Public understanding and support are imperative for effective black bear management.
8) The BBTF has tied its recommendation for a regulated hunt to CCC, which necessarily relies on a survey that recognizes regional variation in public attitudes (see Goal 2 under Recommended Goals and Strategies for Inclusion in Maryland's Black Bear Management Plan for 2003). Therefore, the survey should be conducted and the data analyzed and interpreted so that CCCs for particular counties can be determined before any hunt is instituted.
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This page last updated April 01, 2003