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July 26, 2006

Sharing the Joys of Black Bears

Kevin E. Dayhoff

A recent event in our neighboring city of Rockville provided another reminder of legislative high-jinks and a caution to Maryland voters in the upcoming election.

Not too long ago a friendly baby bear was observed visiting the Montgomery County environs of Rockville. Panic and pandemonium ensued.

A colleague, writing under the nom de plume, "Attila" on his web site, "Pillage Idiot" called the reaction to our attention: "True story: I just got a recorded phone call from the Rockville City Police telling us that a bear cub has been spotted on the outskirts of Rockville, just over a half mile from where I live. The bear is described as black, about 100 pounds, but not dangerous. The message says that animal officials think the bear was displaced by the recent flooding, and warned us to stay away from it, not to try to feed it, and to let it continue on its way."

For those of us in the Western Maryland neck of the woods, this is priceless.

Interactions with wildlife are almost a daily occurrence, where, according to the Department of Legislative Services - in a fiscal note of a piece of legislation - bears "can cause a wide variety of economic damage, including damage to timber, beehives, agricultural crops, and various livestock and poultry."

Mention a bear to a Western Marylander and visions of a friendly Smokey the Bear caricature are not what one imagines.

As far as the appearance of a baby black bear in Rockville - to be sure - Monsieur/Madame friendly bear was probably only visiting.

In the absence of most natural predators, the bear population has reached proportions where, although cute and lovable in a Kodak-moment, their overpopulation serves as a public health risk. Hunting - a cherished heritage in Western Maryland culture - is essentially the only practical means of managing the populations.

My immediate thought after reading about the Rockville incident was the "friendly bear" legislation that the ever friendly, cute and lovable Del. George C. Edwards (R., Garrett/Allegany), introduced in the last session of the General Assembly.

Delegate Edwards, ever accommodating wishing to share the natural resources wealth of Western Maryland with his more urban colleagues, wanted to bring the black bear back to the more sophisticated former haunts of wildlife in places - well, like Rockville, for example.

Delegate Edwards' HB 1436 would have required "the Secretary of Natural Resources to establish a program to ensure that, by October 1, 2012, a black bear population is introduced into each county in the State."

This was in response to a HB 1157 - "The Black Bear Protection Act," read "anti-hunting bill" - filed by the equally cute and lovable Democrat Del. Barbara Frush (D., Anne Arundel/PG), which would classify "black bears as non-game mammals; prohibiting the Department of Natural Resources . from establishing an open season to hunt black bears."

This illustrates one of the many injustices in the last session of our august legislature. The loss of a concept called "local courtesy," a procedure by which members of the legislature recognize that bills put in the hopper regarding local issues are to be given the courtesy befitting the fact that no one understands the idiosyncratic nuances and needs of his or her district better than the local delegation. Concurrently, it is not appropriate for a legislator from outside the area to introduce legislation pertaining to a specific district.

There were innumerable lapses of local courtesy in the 421st Maryland General Assembly; but perhaps there was no better response than that proposed by Delegate Edwards.

Jill Rosen put it best when she wrote in a March 27 article in Baltimore's Sun: "Peeved politicians offer up payback - Lawmakers draft spite bills to answer offending legislation:.a buttinsky delegate from some big-city district up and proposes a bear hunting ban."

Although it may be suggested that the black bear protection legislation was a good example of the lack of respect afforded to legislative colleagues, some will suggest that it is yet another example of the moral relativism and situational ethics that pervade the acrid hallways and offices of the dignified capital of our great state.

In short, the story of the Rockville Police sounding the alarm about the mere presence of a baby bear is an allegorical tale of a General Assembly that has lost its moorings and finds itself in a sticky morass of serving itself instead of the public.

To state the obvious, one wonders why it is that the appearance of a black bear in Rockville is a noteworthy police event when such unwanted incursions are a constant nuisance in Western Maryland.

This is not the first time that folks have rebelled at the legislature's persistent lack of respect for any part of the state that does not happen to be in Montgomery and Prince George's counties or Baltimore City.

As Ms. Rosen reminded us in her article, several years ago, former Sen. Walter M. Baker, "a conservative and crusty Democrat from Cecil County," introduced legislation for the Eastern Shore to secede from Maryland and form its own state.

Senator Baker introduced the legislation after he watched "the General Assembly pass what - from his perspective - looked like one liberal bill after another," wrote Ms. Rosen.

He did it "primarily to make clear to the rest of the state that the Eastern Shore is displeased with much of what the legislature (had done that) year." The straw that broke the camel's back for Senator Baker was the approval of both a gun-control bill and a needle-exchange program in Baltimore, elaborated Ms. Rosen.

Most of Senator Baker's colleagues were unsympathetic except for 15 votes. Ms. Rosen reports others shouted, "Let them go."

In this fall election, don't feed the bears. Rather elect public servants who can do more than contemplate their navels through the cracked mirror of a legislature that has slowly but surely become increasingly unfriendly, self-obsessive and partisan.

It is not a matter of the Democrat elite in the legislature saying "Let them go," but rather them telling us "where to go."

It is not a Kodak-moment and there is nothing cute, friendly or cuddly about it.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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