Maryland legislators have introduced three bills to improve wildlife management and coexistence in the state. These bills promote humane coexistence with black bears, increase the diversity of voices and scientific input in the state’s wildlife policymaking process, and improve the procedure for reporting incidents involving pets, non-target wildlife and other animals caught in traps and snares on public lands. The bills are scheduled for hearings on February 8, 15 and 17. All have bipartisan support and are supported by the Humane Society of the United States.
HB 378—sponsored by Del. Sara Love, D-District 16, and SB 310, sponsored by Sen. Chris West, R-District 42—would rename the current Maryland “Black Bear Damage Reimbursement Fund” to the “Black Bear Conflict Reduction and Damage Reimbursement Fund.” The bill would authorize grants for projects that reduce conflicts between black bears and humans and increase reimbursement for damage done by black bears. This important measure will incentivize the creation of “bear-aware” communities that use proven-effective methods to prevent conflicts from occurring. Bears are extremely valuable to Maryland’s ecosystems and economy, yet they are confronted with challenges from habitat degradation, the effects of climate change, and increased mortality from trophy hunting and human-caused conflicts.
HB 188—sponsored by Del. Julie Palakovich Carr, D-District 17, and SB 320, sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Brooks, D-District 10—would add a requirement for broader citizen and scientist representation on the state’s Wildlife Advisory Commission. Recent research has highlighted the vital role of science in wildlife management decisions, but currently there is no requirement that the commission include a scientist. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, only 1.9% of Maryland residents are paid hunting license holders, and residents and visitors in Maryland who spend time outdoors without harming wildlife outnumber and outspend hunters and trappers by a wide margin. Public attitudes have also changed dramatically in recent years to embrace coexistence with wildlife and value its importance. Yet historically, those constituents have had little to no say in policy decisions that affect Maryland wildlife. HB 188/SB 320 would recognize the importance of including those essential stakeholders in the wildlife policy process.
HB 406—sponsored by Del. Sara Love, D-District 16, and SB 275, sponsored by Sen. Jack Bailey, R-District 29—would require the placement of identification numbers on all traps, snares and other devices designed to capture wildlife on Maryland public lands. The bill would also encourage residents to report sightings of traps that do not meet this requirement to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This will help facilitate the reporting of incidents in which pets, non-target wildlife and other animals are unintentionally captured, injured or killed in traps.
“We thank all of our bill sponsors for advancing measures that will promote humane and effective coexistence with Maryland’s treasured wildlife,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “These bills will help bring depth and diversity to wildlife management decisions in our state. Our wildlife is held in trust for the benefit of all our state’s residents, and it’s time that those residents have a say in how that wildlife is managed.”
- In 2021, an escaped zebra was found dead in an illegal snare trap in Prince George’s County.
- Born Free USA reports incidents of Maryland pets suffering in traps in recent years. Requiring better labeling of traps and more efficient reporting will help to protect Maryland’s animals from such incidents.
- People are the root cause of human-bear conflicts through actions such as leaving out unsecured trash, garbage and bird feeders, which lure hungry black bears into neighborhoods. In rural areas, livestock feed, chickens and bees attract bears. Residents can prevent conflicts and protect bears and property by blocking access with electric fencing.
- Maryland’s beloved black bears are important and provide significant benefits to their ecosystems. They spread more seed than birds and they break tree branches while feeding, which opens forest canopies, creating greater biological diversity on forest floors. They also indirectly protect gray foxes.
- Black bears are as sentient as great apes and they spend up to two years raising their cubs, with whom they are closely bonded. The public appreciates their black bears, and HB 378 will encourage humane coexistence.