When I hunt in West Virginia, some of my companions from that state chuckle about the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service limiting the number of people who can hunt bears.
In the Mountain State, you see, anybody with a hunting license can purchase the necessary stamp to go forth and hunt a bear.
But I tell them that they have no idea what Maryland's wildlife agency had to go through to establish a bear hunt in 2004. That was the first such hunt in 51 years in the state, and required a cautious, conservative approach, an approach that continues to this day.
The initial hunt in 2004 provided 200 permits. The hunting zone was all of Garrett County and the western portion of Allegany County. Twenty bears were killed on the first day and the hunt was stopped.
This year's hunt will take place Oct. 24-27. The hunting zone has expanded to include the state's four western counties of Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick. The number of permits has risen to 750.
When I think that the 2016 hunt will be the 13th in modern times, I harken back to the 1980s. Bears began to show up again in far western Maryland, including sows giving birth to cubs in Garrett County. Biologists with the agency, Joshua Sandt among them, looked into the future and decided to reclassify bears from "endangered animal" to "game animal." That would allow a hunt to be established should the bear population continue to increase.
But there were many, many more hoops through which the biologists had to jump and many, many more speed bumps that slowed progress during this bio-political endeavor.
One thing was clear, the bear population was increasing. The number of sightings, nuisance complaints and vehicle strikes rose. Poaching entered the picture. There was a saying in Garrett County that if you had trouble with a bear you applied the 3-S approach: Shoot, Shovel, Shut-Up.
A task force was created to investigate the need for a bear hunting season. Actually two task forces did that, and both recommended a hunt. The Wildlife Advisory Commission, the citizen-group that advises the Department of Natural Resources and that included a member of animal rights organizations, approved a bear hunt, but Gov. Parris Glendening would not give his blessing to a hunt.
Finally, with Bob Ehrlich at the state's helm, a hunt was proposed and that sparked heated debate from animal righteous folks (ARF). Legislation that would prohibit a bear hunt was defeated in the General Assembly.
The wildlife agency was taken to court and finally won when a judge stated that "bears have no standing in my court" and Maryland had its first bear hunt in more than half of a century.
When Martin O'Malley replaced Ehrlich in the statehouse, anti-hunting organizations began a public relations blitz in an attempt to end the hunt, but the governor stood firm and on the shoulders of science in allowing the hunt to continue.
When people were fussing about hunters shooting bears, Sen. George Edwards, who represents Almost Maryland in Annapolis, prepared a bill that he would introduce if the hunts were ended. The legislation would have required the Department of Natural Resources to trap and transplant bears to every county in Maryland, something the animals themselves are now in the process of doing on their own.