In four days 51 black bears were killed in Maryland .The hunters have used a good broadheads for hunting in killing them, this was all according to HuntingArrows. With little more than 500 American black bears living in the state and a majority of residents preferring a non-lethal alternative to black bear control, the hunting season for black bears took place last week for a third year in a row. But was the decision to reopen the hunt after a 51-year-old ban too soon for this typically peaceful omnivore?
History of the Hunt
The 51-year-old ban on hunting the state’s largest land animal was lifted in 2004 after the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) claimed to have studied hard on the topic. In the mid-1900’s, the black bear was a highly endangered species in Maryland because of logging and hunting. By 1991 there were only 79 black bears found in the wild according to DNR. During the ban, the black bear began a slow growth back up the ladder, but remained mostly in the western counties such as Garrett and Allegany. Scarcely 300 bears later, DNR granted Marylanders the right to hunt the black bear through a lottery.
According to the Humane Society of the United States the Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies conducted a poll of 839 registered voters across the state between October 16 and October 21 on the bear hunt issue. A whopping 72 percent prefer that state officials use non-lethal methods to address bear conflicts. A total of 64 percent of residents across the state want the governor to cancel the black bear hunt, and in western Maryland 53 percent of voters want the hunt canceled. Although, locating this data from the Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies website has been unsuccessful and the link that the Humane Society website used to support its claim was expired as of October 23.
The numbers recorded by DNR seem to suggest an unsteady future. According to the Bear Hunter’s Guide to Hunting Black Bears in Maryland (on DNR’s website), between 1991 and 2000, the black bear population increased by approximately 148 bears. But over the next five years (2005), the black bear population increased by 99 bears. That sounds great, right? It’s important to point out that when everyone says the bear population is abundant, they’re leaving out the other numbers–the mortality numbers. So here’s how it looks to me:
DNR states there were 51 bears killed this year in the hunt (and this number is on the raise yearly).
DNR states there were approximately 52 bears killed in one year (2006) alone by auto collisions (and this number is on the raise yearly).
Hypothetically, if 51 bears are bagged and 52 bears are killed by auto collisions all in the same year, that equals 103 bears killed a year, not including natural deaths.
DNR states an additional 17 deaths caused by something other than auto collisions and hunting in 2006.
That equals about 120 bear deaths that could happen in just one year. At a state rate, that is 600 bears killed in five years.
There was a recorded increase of 99 bears in five years.
Hence, more bears are likely killed in one year than are increasing the population in five years.
If we continue at this rate, there will be a slow decrease in the bear population. Black bears will have to have a better birth and survival rate to keep up.
The Maryland black bear is facing a lot for a species that only just made a “true wildlife recovery” worth celebrating, as DNR put it in the Bear Hunter’s Guide. Their population is threatened by not only natural death, a low reproduction rate, development, and automobile collisions, but by hunting too.Mature, healthy black bears, starting at the age of 3- to 4-years-old, breed only every 2 years. The female remains pregnant during the fall and winter months, the seasons noted for bear hunting. The average number of cubs birthed is two to three, but first time mothers may only have one cub. It takes baby bears a year and a half before becoming independent enough to survive without their mothers. With such a low reproductive rate, and a greater risk of being hunted or killed on the road, it’s hard to imagine that the black bear population will be able to sustain an increase or even a steady balance in Maryland, especially when the DNR allows more and more bears to be hunted every year.
The DNR target for bagged bears started at 30 in 2004 and has risen to between 50 and 70 this year, although the hunt was ceased at 51. That’s no small amount in comparison with the bruin’s population.
Fears to Rest
Pro-bear hunters responded favorably to this year’s hunt in all the news forums. They support their opinions by claiming that bears are dangerous, causing damage to farms, and scaring parents from allowing their children outdoors. These claims can all be squelched by the very same group that has allowed them to hunt. “Most of the problems with bears can be handled through education,” stated DNR on their wildlife FAQs page. It lists a number of ways humans can live in balance with black bears, starting with avoiding contact all together. Just remember to take in your dog food and empty your bird feeders before nightfall, and only put out your garbage can on trash day.“
Bears will not normally come near homes unless there is something that attracts them to the area,” the DNR website says. It also points out that the American black bear is “largely vegetarian,” preferring berries, nuts, insects, grasses, and fish. If you’re looking to read more information on wild berries, campingfunzone.com has tons of articles that you can browse through. That’s not to say that they don’t eat small mammals, such as young deer or chickens. Bears were actually one of the most important predators to the white-tailed deer. Since the demise of the bear, deer have become grossly over populated, causing health problems for the species and countless automobile accidents in Maryland. DNR also lists ways that farmers can protect their crop and livestock from bears, and offer compensation, although many note the compensation is too small.
It is possible to live with black bears. Despite the fear that surrounds them, there have been no human deaths caused by bears in Maryland’s recorded history. “In Maryland there are no known cases of a human being attacked by a black bear,” according to DNR.
Across the United States, there have only been 56 human deaths caused by bears on record for the last 100 years, as stated by Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.While caution should always be used with bears, we face more immediate dangers from human predators and car accidents than from bears in this state.
DNR needs to recall its decision to hold black bear hunts in Maryland until the bruin have had more time to sustain their numbers. It could be argued that hunting is sometimes necessary, as in the case of the white-tailed deer, but the black bear problem has not reached the same extent. Right now the only purpose of the hunt is to give pro-hunters a trophy. Why risk placing the black bear back on the endangered list just to please one group of people?
*Please note that this is an opinion piece and is not presented as news. This is simply how the author (a tree-hugging animal lover) interpreted the data she was able to locate and review. To get the full story about the bear hunt and make your own decision about what DNR should do, please follow the links within and read previous articles and comments in local news papers. If you have an opinion you would like to share or data to add to the topic, please feel free to comment on this piece.
While I prefer to hunt the most elusive of game…MAN, there is always a need to control the population of wild animals that share our living space.
If not through a sanctioned hunt, these bears will begin to encroach on the spaces where we live, work and (in the case of Garrett County) play.
I don't like the idea of hoardes of camo wearin', gun totin' vigilantes tearing through the woods looking for the (did you hear about the 600+ pounder killed this year?) bear that figures out trash can diving is a cheap source of protein.
A controlled, limited hunt is good for us, and good for the future of the beautiful black bear in Maryland.
Steve, HarfordNow says
Is the DNR just going on numbers to allow the hunting, or are reported bear incidents causing them to take action?
On the other hand, allowing a bear hunt is much cheaper than trapping and relocating.
Art Helton says
Nice coverage on an interesting subject. Factual,informative,and unslanting. Very refreshing. Art
I just stumbled across this section of the DNR website that holds a lot more information and thought I'd share:
If you review the Public Attitudes Toward Black Bear Management In Maryland from 2004, you'll learn a lot about what residents think about bears and the bear hunt. Some numbers are conflicting though.
65 percent of Western Maryland residents reported having encounters with black bears, and 74 percent said their experiences were positive.
98 percent of state wide residents said they had no problems with bears between 2002 and 2004.
77 percent support having bears in Maryland, but 7 percent oppose–most being residents of Western Maryland.
A state wide response of 72 percent want to expand the bear population across the state, and only 20 percent are okay with killing bears for damage to personal property without a permit.
65 percent support regulated hunting, but 78 percent said they're only comfortable with this if they know that the population as a whole will not be endangered — and there lies the most important point:
Are we really certain that even a regulated bear hunt is good for the approximate 500 bears in Maryland when their numbers seem so unstable?
Steve, HarfordNow says
How unsteady is the bear population growth though? You say from 1991-2000, there was an increase of 148 bears, which would be 16.4 bears/year. Over the next 5 years, which included 2 years of hunting, it increase 99 bears, or 19.8 bears/year.
Obviously you can't just do the math the way I did it and get all the answers. And I'm still do not support the hunting of black bears without just cause (sport is not a cause). How is PA and WV dealing with the issue? Are we following their lead, or are our efforts contradictory to what they are doing?
Steve, HarfordNow says
Also, just to add, I'm not trying to argue with your position, just trying to understand more about the issue 🙂 It's a great topic that will hopefully lead to more discussion….
No, those are good questions. There is obviously a lot of information to cover and it's not all here.
I was reluctant to post this piece to be completely honest just because I don't have all the facts. And my math sucks.
At this point, I'm willing to state that, while I remain uncomfortble with the hunt verses population, your calculations do suggest an increase rather than a decrease, but we obviously don't have all the numbers either (deaths, births, 2006, 2007, etc).
I was hoping the article would at least spur readers to offer their own knowledge/research and discuss, because there has been a lot of opinion throwing without education on the subject in local forums.
At the moment, I know little about how PA and WV are doing. I do know that NJ has remained against opening a black bear hunt. But I don't know what the bear population is like there either. If I find out more, I'll be sure to post it here.
Thanks, and stay sharp. 🙂
ABERDEEN PRICE WETLANDS RECORD COPS ELECTION… oh wait. My bad. Nice piece Kristi!!
The hunting ban was lifted as a payback by Bob Ehrlich to Western Maryland Republican gun buddies who want trophies. Admittedly poor payback, 51 (roughly) probably isnt the ursine massacre the "sportsman" feverishly dream about. A question is why hasnt O'Malley put the ban back in place. I happened to be at a Humane Society Bear Hunt protest in Annapolis last week, a day before the hunt started. I talked with two woman there, who told me story about a O'Malley fundraiser they attended during his campaign. They said they specifically asked him about hunting in general, and they told me he responded " I dont want to be known for killing bears like Ehrlich". They were protesting in front of the gov's mansion particularly because they felt he broke a promise. Hearsay of course, but interesting none the less.
I say leave the hunt, but the bears can only be killed with knives. See how many of these brave hunters take up the cause.
Haha, thanks Josh. It's like the war — would Bush support it if he or his daughters were physically fighting in it? Probably not. But that's another story and another opinion.
I have updated the article with something that I hope will clear up what I was trying to say about the unsteady numbers. Let me know what you think.
Steve, HarfordNow says
Another complication in determining some sort of rationale is that Maryland allows the killing of cubs, while WV and PA do not.
Also when you look at the number of black bears in those states, between 10k and 15k each state, you can kind of understand why they allow hunting. 15k versus 500 (max). We sure do have a bear problem!
Wow, thanks for those PA and WV numbers. That puts a lot into perspective. Maryland really needs to think again about what it's doing.
Here's my two cents regarding bear hunting in Maryland, and probably hunting in general.
I love the outdoors and wild animals and enjoying wild places in their undisturbed state. But everyone is different. Some people like to sit on a beach and watch the tide come and go while others like to be out in the tide and riding the waves as they come and go.
While I don't hunt and don't necessarily support hunting, I understand it is something some people find enjoyable and it may still be a necessity to others.
In a broader view you have to look at what hunting does to non-hunters. Am I noticing less deer in the woods because they've all been shot? Probably not. But I probably AM noticing more woods for the deer (and me) to walk around in because it has been protected and preserved by hunters and hunting groups.
That brings us to perhaps one of the most distressing things about human nature – we only care about things that have value to us. As such, woods become valuable because they are home to deer and fox and bear and anything else some of us like to hunt. By extension, the animals themselves are valuable because they are necessary for there to be a hunt.
So the argument can be made that it is because of hunters and pro-hunting lobbying that we have so much protected and preserved forests and parkland – available to both hikers and hunters for use.
Opening up Maryland to bear hunting suddenly puts a new value on the life of a bear. Whereby it was previously just another wild animal to watch as it lumbered through the woods or tore open residential trash cans, it is now a commodity. With hunters plunking down tons of cash for expensive gear, lodging and a chance at bagging a bruin, DNR wildlife managers will never let the bear population dip again.
By way of example, consider what happened to the American Alligator in the first half of the last century. The alligator was despised and shot on sight, run out of it traditional territory as Floridian development was literally soaking up swamps and turning them into residential communities or things more extravagant (see: DisneyWorld). Anyhow, the American Alligator was on the verge of extirpation in Florida until someone realized that if you tanned the hide of a gator you got a pretty nice leather for boots or belts or whatever.
At this point it might seem crazy to begin harvesting for leather a species on the brink of extinction, but it had just the opposite effect from what you might imagine. With a sudden and new value on alligators, people began to take interest in their preservation. They stopped indiscriminantly killing them. They opened up farms and started raising them. Now, 50 or so years later, there are so many alligators in Florida that the state has reopened its own long closed alligator hunting.
Granted, I'm not suggesting we open bear farms (although that'd be kinda cool), but the new value on the head of a bear suddenly makes them worth having around in our Capitalistic culture.
In a perfect world maybe, Brian. I'm afraid I dont have that much faith in the DNR Wildlife Managers. Ask the Blue Crab how well they're doing this year. DNR seems like an organization full of dedicated professionals headed by payback political appointees. The head of DNR under Ehrlich was a dentist, for crying out loud. The bear population might not able to sustain these losses year after year, and they are gambling with the future.
Also, like with deer, these brave hunters arent interested in controlling or keeping populations healthy. Otherwise they would only kill females. If they only killed females, that actually would affect the population. But no, they want to kill the big bad bucks with the big racks. As long as they leave one sickly male alive, he can fertilize dozens of females and lower the overall genes of the population. It seems to me that in recent years deer have actually been appearing to become stupider and stupider. You might be able to contribute this to the lowering of the quality of the gene pool. Top notch "resource management".
Bottom line, the hunters get off on killing bear. The situation is remarkably similiar to the Japanese whale harvest. International law forbids the hunting of whales, but still Japan insists on their hunt under the guise of "study". So last year they "studied" upwards of a thousand whales. Its a sham, and so is the Bear Hunt.