Maryland DNR says "Non-Lethal Task Force" not anti-h

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'Non-lethal' task force said not anti-hunting.

By: KONRAD SUROWIEC, Staff Writer Star Democrat, September 10, 2001

ANNAPOLIS - An advisory committee studying ways to reduce wildlife populations without killing the animals was defended by representatives of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who said the panel is not meant as a maneuver to ban hunting.

Sportsmen's groups fear Maryland's Non-Lethal Task Force on Wildlife was created as an "end around" tactic to get rid of hunting, but that was not the intent at all, said DNR spokesman John Surrick. He said the 16-member committee is looking at non-lethal strategies of managing wildlife in places where an abundance of certain animals - such as deer or resident Canada geese - has caused problems.

DNR created the task force as a result of an agreement between DNR and Del. Sharon Grosfeld, D-17-Montgomery, who introduced, then withdrew, a bill to form the task force. A DNR news release from Nov. 20, 2000 said the task force was established to recommend appropriate non-lethal methods of resolving "human/wildlife conflicts" and to address conflicts with deer, bear, beavers, Canada geese, mute swans and other species.

DNR asked the committee to do the following:

* Study scientific documentation concerning the effectiveness of wildlife management techniques used by wildlife agencies in the United States and Canada.

* Examine causes of conflicts between human and wildlife populations in Maryland.

* Assess current wildlife management policies in Maryland.

* Form recommendations regarding use of non-lethal wildlife techniques in Maryland.

* Recommend ways to fund and implement current and future non-lethal wildlife management initiatives.

The committee has met monthly since January and is due to release a report to the governor and legislature in December.

The committee includes representatives from the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Bird Conservancy, the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maryland Wildlife Advisory Committee, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, a state veterinarian, four members of the general public, two state senators and two delegates.

The name of the committee "sort of raises eyebrows," said Del. Kenneth Schisler, R-37B-Talbot. He said a few people in his district have asked him about it.

State Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, said sportsmen and hunters fear "this is the first step toward abolishment of hunting."

The task force is not an anti-hunting group, said Rich Dolesh, director of DNR's Forest, Wildlife and Heritage Service. He said the committee was formed mainly to investigate alternative management techniques in densely populated areas where hunting, in many cases, is prohibited for safety reasons.

"What prompted a lot of it was deer management strategies in suburban and urban areas," said Dolesh.

The resident Canada geese population in Maryland is estimated at 80,000 to 100,000 and many of the birds are in suburban and urban areas, said Dolesh. "They can become a nuisance," but hunting the birds in some areas is not an option, he said.

The task force is beginning to form its recommendations. "The dynamics of that group have been pretty productive," said Dolesh.

Schisler said non-lethal methods are appropriate in densely populated communities where hunting would be dangerous. But he is concerned the committee might recommend non-lethal methods in rural areas where hunting is appropriate. If that happens, Schisler predicts a loud outcry from the agricultural community.

"When you have 25 deer in your field every evening, you need to be able to remove that threat to your livelihood," said Schisler.

As an example, he said deer can be a disaster for apple growers and Washington County has a lot of apple orchards. "If you tried non-lethal means, the guy's going to lose his orchard before it takes effect," said Schisler.

Schisler said the non-lethal task force can do some good, but so can the promotion of hunting among young people. He said DNR sponsors youth hunting days, but that sponsorship is required by state law. In areas where it has discretion, DNR has pulled its support of youth hunting programs, said Schisler. He believes that shift in policy is a mistake.

DNR used to sponsor archery, rifle and shotgun target competitions for kids, said Schisler. He said DNR personnel gave safety demonstrations and the agency contributed money for shotgun shells and targets. DNR generated "a lot of good will" from those events, said Schisler.

Schisler said concern over DNR's policy on youth hunting was one reason that led to the formation this year of the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus and its research arm - the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus Foundation.

The foundation director is Ladd Johnson, who also heads a private company in Cambridge, Resource Management, that does consulting on wildlife issues. Johnson said the Maryland Sportsmen's Legislative Caucus has 55 members "and it's growing."

Most, but not all, caucus members are from rural areas. Johnson said state lawmakers from both houses of the legislature and both major political parties are in the group. House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller are members.

Johnson said the foundation was established to supply the caucus with scientific information.
 

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