TOP STORY, Sept. 1, 2015
DNR expands bear hunt for western Maryland
By JONATHAN CRIBBS
OAKLAND, Md. — Western Maryland farmers struggling with a rebounding and foraging black bear population might get a little help this year from an expanded bear hunting program, a state department of natural resources official said last week.
The number of permits issued to hunt a black bear in Garrett and Allegany counties is 500, up from 450 a year ago and 380 the year before, said Harry Spiker, game mammal section leader at the department.
The increases are meant to account for a population of adult and sub-adult bears — excluding young bears — across both counties that’s jumped from 300 in 2004 to more than 1,000 now, he said.
Black bears have increasingly become a source of crop loss in the region, capable of consuming between five and 10 corn acres a year on some farms.
Farmers met with the department in late May, asking for changes that would allow them to hunt bears when they have a demonstrable problem on their farm.
The department is still investigating the issue, Spiker said, and “nothing is on the board yet so to speak.”
But the annual bear hunt does typically take bears off farms, Spiker said.
About 4,000 are expected to apply for the 500 permits.
Each permit holder can hunt with up to two additional people, though only one bear kill is allowed per permit.
Roughly a quarter of permits succeed in killing a bear, potentially resulting in 125 total kills this year, he said.
But the kills need to be more surgical if they’re going to succeed in reducing crop loss, said Billy Bishoff, Garrett County Farm Bureau president.
“It doesn’t matter to me whether they kill more bear. They just need to do a better job allocating where those bears are killed,” he said. “Upping their bag limit is a good move, but it’s likely not going to help those farmers who are heavily impacted.”
The deadline for applying for a permit was Aug. 31, Spiker said.
It’s a lottery system, and the first 25 percent of permits are restricted only to residents of both counties — a rule that could favor local farmers, Spiker said.
The permits, which cost $15, can be used Oct. 26-29.