More bears targeted by hunters in Maryland
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is boosting the number of permits to hunt black bears, a common crop damage culprit, by 150 in Western Maryland this year.
Through a lottery, the department will issue 950 permits for the five-day hunting season in Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties from Oct. 26-30. The department has been expanding the 17-year permit program for the last several years in an effort to slow the growth and eastward spread of the region’s rebounding black bear population.
Over the years, farmers in that region have also asked state officials for expansions of the permit program to prevent crop losses primarily to corn. Black bears are capable of consuming between 5 and 10 acres of a farm’s corn each year.
Hunters with a valid natural resources department ID may apply for the licenses on the department’s website or at one of the 250 hunting and fishing license agents statewide. All entries must be completed by 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 31 with a $15 application fee. Only one application is permitted per person. The lottery will be held Sept. 3, and winners will be notified shortly thereafter.
Harry Spiker, the department’s game mammal section leader, said he speaks regularly with the region’s farmers who have been satisfied with the program’s growth. They’re able to charge hunters who want access to their farms, and the program supports a fund for Maryland farmers who suffer crop damage by black bears.
“Farmers are a lot happier having something they can do about it,” Spiker said. “I can tell you from before the hunt many of these people saw bears as vermin, and many still do, but many of them value them now because there’s a value to them.”
An increase in permits doesn’t necessarily guarantee a decrease in crop damage. Acorn availability is often the best predictor of crop damage. Bears prefer them to corn, Spiker said. Natural black cherries are also a popular food source.
“It’s not as simple as more bears, more damage, less bears, less damage,” Spiker said. “I find myself every year hoping for a good acorn crop.”
In addition to crop damage, the state fields 400-500 nuisance complaints about the animals each year, ranging from overturned trashcans to home break-ins, he said. The animals were overhunted a century ago, and by the 1950s the state’s black bear population was nearly eliminated. Hunting regulations allowed it to rebound, and now bears are moving eastward into counties such as Baltimore, Harford and Howard. The department even found a black bear near the southern tip of St. Mary’s County. It had swum across the Potomac River.
“The population overall continues to grow,” Spiker said.
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