With an increase in the number of permits given out and a record number of bears killed during last month's five-day Maryland black bear hunt came another high mark -- arrests made for illegal baiting and other violations.
According to the Natural Resources Police, 22 hunters were arrested. While it represented more than five times the number of hunters arrested last year (four) and double the number from 2010, it is only 2.5 percent of the number of hunters who were either issued permits or had sub-permits.
"It's different from deer hunting. When they go in with the bear hunting permit, if you find one person where they're bating, there are usually two or three arrests," said Harry Spiker, the bear biologist who manages the hunt for the Department of Natural Resources.
There were 340 permits issued -- up from 260 last year -- and 92 bears killed, 34 more than the previous record.
Though Spiker said he doesn't think the number of arrests made "is a huge deal," he sees it as a sign that "our enforcement people are putting more of an effort into the bear season because it's such a high-profile event."
Spiker said the DNR and the Natural Resources Police were criticized when the bear hunt was reinstituted in 2004 for not doing a good enough job policing the violators.
"In the early years, a lot of people questioned whether we could police it," Spiker said. "Hands down, this shows we're enforcing it. They're [the Natural Resources Police] showing they can do that."
Other violations included not "wearing orange," meaning the flourescent bibs used to make the hunters visible in fading light or at night, as well as sub-permittees not being within a line of vision of the hunter who was given the permit from the state.
Sgt. Brian Albert, a 21-year member of the Natural Resources Police, agreed with Spiker in terms of the number of arrests not being that surprising given the increase in permits issued. Albert said the public has become more vigilant about reporting possible violations as well.
"We're getting better information from the public, not just on the bear issues, on hunting in general," Albert said. "We're making more cases across the board on deer hunting, hunting without orange. It's kind of in the spotlight because it's related to bear hunt."
Albert believes the rise violations is also related to the economy.
"When the economy goes in the tank, conservation violations go up," he said. "I don't have any specific scientific information to back that up, but I think any experienced officer will tell you the same thing."
Albert said those arrested face a $500 fine and all had their firearms confiscated. Albert said the hunters who were arrested can fight the fine in court, but they face the possibility of a judge raising it to as much as $1,500.
"It's rare, but I've seen that happen," Albert said.
Spiker said he doesn't believe the rise in arrests is a sign that cheating is prevalent in the bear hunt.
"I don't think it screams that bear hunters are a bad lot," he said. "By and large, the largest group of hunters play by the rules."
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