Cumberland Times-News

Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors

November 17, 2012

More bear permits, please

Earlier this year, before the Maryland bear season and before dead bears started piling up on the state’s highways, the Wildlife & Heritage Service told us that there were 800-plus bears in Garrett and Allegany counties.

Since then, hunters have killed 92 bears during a five-day season. Since then, the Times-News has tallied 47 bruins that were whacked and stacked by Detroit bullets on roads — Interstate 68 being the single greatest contributor.

I believe the agency when its biologists tell us that the best available science was used to estimate the bear population in Almost Maryland.

I have to believe, as well, that the best available science isn’t all it should be. I mean, after all, the best available science is used to treat human conditions such as multiple sclerosis, but has a long way to go.

I’m thinking that the best available science, when it comes to counting bears, is in some sort of rudimentary phase. Of course all we can ask any person or any agency to do is their best.

Here is a down-and-dirty description of the best bear-counting science: bear hairs are collected and the DNA is identified and from that a population estimate is extrapolated.

Why am I so skeptical of the bear population estimate of 800-plus?

Let’s say we confirm that by the end of the year 48 bears die from vehicle strikes. Add that 48 to the 92 legally killed bears during the hunt and you have 140 dead bears out of, lets say, 825.

That means 17 percent of the bear population has expired.

That is, by the way, a real healthy and sustainable level of mortality for a bear population, especially one that is growing at 12 percent per year.

But here is the catch. I figure that if hunters using 340 permits, and not using the help of bait or dogs, can kill 92 bears in five days in only two counties that there is a scat-load of bears out there.

Is that scientific? No. I mean I don’t have any bear hair or DNA or extrapolaters, but I have a certain level of common sense in spite of what my mother said about it a bunch of decades ago.

Here is the other thing. The bear population that lives on public land is not being hunted very much. For one thing, it is most difficult to remove by hand a dead bear from the forest.

Only 10 bears were killed in Allegany County this season.

Within the square three-quarters of a mile on Dan’s Mountain where I spend a lot of time, I have seen or photographed via trail camera 12 different bears. There are pert near 10,000 acres on the Dan’s Mountain Wildlife Management Area that the bears act like they own.

I’m pleased that the WHS has expanded the number of permits and increased the number of bears that may be harvested. A further liberalization of those numbers would be appropriate for next season. Perhaps a certain block of permits should be designated to be used only in a certain county or in a portion of a certain county or on a specified public land.

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Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors
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