During my time as Outdoors Editor at the Cumberland Times-News, it quickly became clear that readers loved stories about our local bears. It all started in the 1980s when we became aware that a population of breeding bears had returned to western Maryland after an absence of many decades.
Once CTN started delivering news online, we were able to quantify that interest in our local brains empirically. Sophisticated software allowed us to see how many people were reading an article, how long they were spending on it, where they were located, and how they got to our website. Some people went directly to our website, but others came through social networks.
Of course, an article posted on the newspaper’s social media accounts allows readers to comment. There are always comments when the article is about bears.
So it was not unexpected when readers reacted on CTN’s Facebook page to my Aug. 20 column about the lottery hunters enter to get a bear hunting permit. There are 950 such permits for the 2022 hunt that will take place in October. There are likely to be more than 5,000 applicants. There is a non-refundable application fee of $15.
First, a little history. Whether it’s a western state lottery hunt for elk or bighorn sheep or a Maryland lottery hunt for bear, one tactic used by those who oppose the hunt is to apply for a permit. If successful, that person simply saves the permission or discards it. The result, of course, is that the permit will not be used in the death of that particular animal.
Facebook comments on my column included one from a woman who said she “paid” for the bear lottery not to kill a bear, but to save it. She also said that she had been drawn for a permit in a previous year.
Another poster said it suggests people apply for permits and then use them not to hunt “but (for) conservation.” I submit that your statement would be more accurate if you had used the word preservation instead of conservation.
In any case, there are people who request the permits, but who will not hunt if they take them out. Their belief is that they are saving a bear from being killed.
So, I contacted officials at the Maryland Heritage and Wildlife Service and basically asked, “What’s up with all this?”
The response from wildlife managers came through Gregg Bortz, who works in the agency’s communications office.
“While this is known to occur, it is on a very small scale. One metric we use to determine that is hunter success. Our hunter success rates are similar to our neighboring states, suggesting there is no significant impact to the process,” Bortz wrote in an email.
Bortz said annual post-hunt surveys of permit holders show nothing to raise an alarm regarding applicants not hunting.
“We monitor harvest rates each year, we can adjust the number of days and the number of permits issued to compensate if any significant impacts are found in the permitting process.”
I think this last statement is key.
The agency keeps every $15 application fee, whether it comes from a hunter, a non-hunter or an anti-hunter. Therefore, those who apply with the intention of scrapping the permit are also contributing to wildlife management.
Agency officials could simply say, “Okay, we know X number of applicants won’t hunt, so let’s increase the number of available permits by that number.” If there are 200 applicants who wouldn’t hunt, that’s $3,000 in the WHS kitty. Why remove that income by changing the enforcement rules in some way to weed out those who wouldn’t hunt?
The truth is that in order to throw away a bear hunting permit, you have to get one out first. The odds are steep.
You can apply for the $15 Maryland permit without having purchased a hunting license. That makes sense. An Alabama hunter applying for a Maryland bear hunting permit should not be required to purchase a nonresident license that will go unused if that person is unsuccessful in the bear lottery. A hunter safety certificate is also not required to apply for a bear permit, although one would be needed for a person to purchase a license and hunt.
The application period ended on August 31. The draw takes place on September 7.
After the agency email. I spoke with Brian Eyler, head of the hunting mammals section. “We know that 94% of bear permit holders purchase a hunting license,” Eyler said. “The other 6% are probably landowners (who don’t need a license to hunt on their own land). We also found that 90% of our bear hunters are also in our deer hunting database.”
Mike Sawyers retired in 2018 as foreign editor of the Cumberland Times-News. His column now appears every other Saturday. To order his book, “Native Queen, a Celebration of the Hunting and Fishing Life,” send him a check for $15 to 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557.