Western Md. growers ask for help against bears

Staff Writer

(June 9, 2015) Some Garrett County farmers have a severe bear problem, and they’re looking to the state for more leniency to hunt them.
It’s not uncommon for roughly 10 corn growers to suffer losses of five to 10 acres a year to bears that have become increasingly comfortable in residential  and agricultural settings, said Billy Bishoff, president of the county’s Farm Bureau.
“We have farmers that are having serious damage year after year, and we need a bear management permit or some process where these troublesome bears can be harvested or removed,” he said.
Those wishes led to a recent meeting between Farm Bureau members and the state’s Department of Natural Resources on May 28.
Maryland’s bear density is about 0.25 per square mile with the highest densities in Garrett County and western Allegany County where there are more than 1,000 black bears, the state Farm Bureau said.
Farmers there said they want to be able to acquire permits to hunt bear during a managed hunt if they could demonstrate they have severe crop loss issues due to black bears.
The state currently uses a bear stamp lottery system that permits occasional hunts and is designed to raise money to compensate farmers for the crop losses, Bishoff said, but the state never sold enough stamps to make up the difference.
Moving farmers to the front of the stamp line might help, he said.
“We’re also asking that part of the solution might be some kind of preferential consideration for landowners or farmers that are having some kind of problem to increase their odds of being able to hunt,” Bishoff said.
Ronald Longacre, owner of Ron’s Sweet Corn, is one of those farmers.
Longacre doesn’t express a desire to hunt bear, however, he said he walked into his 11-acre field last year and stumbled onto seven areas about 10 feet in circumference where the stalks had been pulled down to the ground.
He said he figures he lost a few bushels, or $100 worth, of corn overnight.
“I was very fortunate,” he said. “I think what happened was it was too sweet for the bears, which is a good thing. I’ve heard of guys really getting hit hard.”
After the talk, Bishoff said he thinks the state will work to better accommodate farmers.
“I think we will see some type of incremental change. They’re going to try something,” he said. “No promises were made, but we have repetitive, provable damage and I think they will try to do something, make some accommodation.”