Bears are on the rise

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

You’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to spot a bear in Calvert, Charles or St. Mary’s coun­ties this sum­mer, em­pha­sis on the word prob­a­bly, but keep in mind it’s not en­tirely out­side the realm of pos­si­bil­ity.

A 95-pound male bear was struck by a car on Route 235 in St. Mary’s County last July, and each year there are a usu­ally a few con­firmed sight­ings of bears as far south as Prince Ge­orge’s County. But bears nor­mally in­habit the more re­mote and moun­tain­ous re­gion of the state, where crit­ters have more open space to roam and live.

Here’s a bear trivia ques­tion for you: What are the three species of bears that in­habit North Amer­ica?

Back when the first colonists ar­rived, bears lived in all parts of Mary­land. By the 1970s, the num­bers were so di­min­ished that of­fi­cials put them on the state’s en­dan­gered species list. By 1985, the pop­u­la­tion had re­cov­ered to the point that they could be put back onto the

for­est game species list.

In re­cent years, the black bear pop­u­la­tion and range has been steadily in­creas­ing. The De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources re­sponded to this growth by ex­pand­ing the hunt­ing zone from Gar­rett and Al­le­gany coun­ties to in­clud­ing all of Fred­er­ick and Washington coun­ties, too, for the 2016 hunt­ing sea­son.

If you’re plan­ning a trip to one of the wilder parts of our state, des­ti­na­tions like Cun­ning­ham Falls State Park in Fred­er­ick County or Rocky Gap State Park in Al­le­gany County, an en­counter with a bear is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity, although you prob­a­bly won’t even be aware of it if one does hap­pen. Bears gen­er­ally try to avoid peo­ple and usu­ally head off in an­other di­rec­tion when they see a hu­man or hear a bit of noise.

But, that’s not al­ways the case, es­pe­cially if the bear is a mother with a cub, and it’s a good idea to be pre­pared if you do any hik­ing or out­door re­cre­ation in ar­eas known to have a bear pop­u­la­tion. Keep­ing food out of tents and in bear-proof con­tain­ers and prop­erly dis­pos­ing of trash are the two most im­por­tant ways to dis­cour­age bears from pay­ing you a visit.

If you do hap­pen to en­counter a bear, DNR wildlife ex­perts rec­om­mend calmly back­ing away from it. Even though your first in­stinct — un­der­stand­ably — might be to turn and run, do­ing so might trig­ger the an­i­mal to chase you.

Last week, a man in Maine was able to out­run two charg­ing bears. But he, un­like most of us, is a pro­fes­sional marathon run­ner. Although bears aren’t usu­ally ag­gres­sive to­ward hu­mans, run­ning away from one will prob­a­bly not lead to such an in­cred­i­bly lucky out­come.

I’ll never for­get the first time I saw a bear in the wild. I was vis­it­ing Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park for the first time, and every­where out­side the gates were signs warn­ing vis­i­tors to drive slowly, look out for wildlife and not feed the an­i­mals.

Ap­prox­i­mately 60 sec­onds af­ter en­ter­ing the park, I al­most slammed into one with my rental car.

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a bush jump­ing around. But what I was ac­tu­ally see­ing was a gi­ant bear as it sashayed its way through a bush.

I had only a few sec­onds to re­al­ize it. I slammed on the brakes and skid­ded a cou­ple feet as my daugh­ter yelled, “It’s a bear! It’s a bear!”

It cer­tainly was. The

bear stopped in the mid­dle of the road and stood its ground for nearly a minute be­fore it very slowly lum­bered the rest of the way across the road. It wasn’t in any rush. Then it dis­ap­peared into the bushes on the other side.

An­swer to the trivia ques­tion: The species of bear that in­hab­its Mary­land is the black bear.

Black bears live in most of the forested re­gions of the lower con­tigu­ous United States, Alaska and Canada. There are about 30,000 black bears in Maine, which is one bear for ev­ery 44 peo­ple who live in the state.

Brown bears, also called griz­zly bears, are found in some north­west­ern states, Alaska and Canada. Although Cal­i­for­nia is known as the “Bear State” and fea­tures a sub­species called the Cal­i­for­nia griz­zly bear on its flag, griz­zlies have been ex­tinct in Cal­i­for­nia since the 1920s.

Po­lar bears live in Alaska and Canada. The other five types of bears in the world are the Asian black bear, gi­ant panda, sloth bear, spec­ta­cled bear and sun bear. And even though bear is part of its name, the koala bear is not ac­tu­ally a species of bear.

Griz­zlies delisted

Last month, U.S. Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Ryan Zinke an­nounced that the griz­zly bear pop­u­la­tion in the Greater Yel­low­stone Ecosys­tem is suf­fi­ciently re­cov­ered and will be taken off the list of threat­ened species pro­tected un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act. The GYE in­cludes por­tions of north­west­ern Wy­oming, south­west­ern Mon­tana and east­ern Idaho.

In the 42 years the griz­zly bear has been listed as a threat­ened species, the pop­u­la­tion of bears in the GYE has grown from fewer than 150 to ap­prox­i­mately 700 or more.

While some con­ser­va­tion groups and Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes want the griz­zly to re­main pro­tected, sci­en­tific ev­i­dence sug­gests the GYE is near ca­pac­ity. That means the avail­able ter­ri­tory and food in that area can­not sup­port more bears with­out in­creas­ing the risk to hu­mans and crops.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice at­tempted to delist the griz­zly bear in 2007, but af­ter sev­eral law­suits were filed against the ac­tion a fed­eral judge sided with groups that wanted to place the griz­zly bear back on the list. All of the cri­te­ria for delist­ing the griz­zly bear has been met for over a decade now.

Management of the griz­zly bear pop­u­la­tion will be turned over to the state game agen­cies of Wy­oming, Mon­tana and Idaho to han­dle co­op­er­a­tively and sci­en­tif­i­cally.

The management plan al­lows for a well-reg­u­lated har­vest of bears in ar­eas out­side the na­tional parks. Poli­cies are in place that pro­tect both fe­male griz­zly bears with cubs and those young, de­pen­dent bears from hunt­ing and strin­gent lim­its will en­sure that a min­i­mum pop­u­la­tion of at least 600 bears is main­tained at all times.

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