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This Week’s Creature Feature Maryland’s Black Bears

You can hunt them, paint them or spend $5 to support them

 

It’s about that time of year when Maryland’s black bears go from being predators to prey.
On August 2, Maryland Department of Natural Resources began accepting applications from hunters who hope to shoot a bear in the season opening October 25.
Two-hundred and sixty hunters will be picked by lottery from an expected 3,600 applicants (based on last year’s figures). Garrett and Allegany counties will have 65 to 90 fewer bears when the season ends October 30 — or earlier, if shooting is good. This year’s quota is up five bears from last year’s, meaning the species continues to hold its own. 
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About 500 to 600 bears are estimated to live in Maryland’s two hunt counties, Garrett and Allegany, with more in Washington and Frederick. Those four western counties are the black bears’ Maryland stronghold, though juveniles learning their way around may check out Carroll, Baltimore and even Montgomery county. 
The native species was nearly pushed out of existence by occupying settlers, who denuded the landscape of trees — thus wiping out bear habitat — as well as by hunters. In the last century, the pressure on forests has lessened and, in recent years, public purchase of land has increased. Bears and other wildlife have rebounded.
“We have some of healthiest forest for bears right here in the Appalachian region, because we have so many species of tree,” says DNR’s Harry Spiker. “If oaks don’t do well, they have black cherries and hickories to fall back on.”
Bear hunting again became legal in 2004. Each hunt-applicant pays $15 to enter the bear lottery. (Learn more at www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide/blackbearhunt.asp. Or follow the hunt on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mdblackbear). 
A small percent (300 so far) add $5 to purchase a Maryland black bear stamp, a collector’s item that invigorates wildlife art and funds the Black Bear Damage Reimbursement Fund. Since 1996, the fund has paid farmers nearly $100,000 for crop damage wrought by bears. (Buy your collectible stamp at http://shopdnr.com).
Artists compete each year for the honor of painting the stamp. This year, watercolorist Rebecca Latham of Hastings, Montana gave us an over-the-rump view of a black bear pausing in autumn woods.