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A necessity to shoot the bear?

The good folks at the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s office regularly email press releases announcing the latest guilty pleas and sentences. One sent out Thursday piqued my interest.

“MARYLAND HUNTING GUIDES SENTENCED FOR VIOLATING MARYLAND BLACK BEAR HUNTING REGULATIONS,” the subject line reads. (The U.S. Attorney’s office always puts subject lines in all caps, which I enjoy. It also regularly announces people being “exiled” to prison, which I enjoy even more.)

In the black bear case, Larry E. Harding and Wallace A. Haward, a former officer with the Bel Air Police Department, were fined and placed on five years’ probation, during which they cannot serve as guides on commercial hunting trips. The two men pleaded guilty to violating two rules of the state’s black bear hunt between 2008 and 2010 by using bait to attract bears and not being in visual contact with their clients while hunting.

Harding and Harward were caught in an undercover operation in October 2009, according to federal prosecutors. An officer joined Harding, Harward and another hunter on a hunting expedition. Hunting and Harward used apples as bait for the black bears. You can guess what happened next:

The undercover officer shot his bear from a spot suggested by Harding, overlooking a pile of illegal bait. …The bears killed by the hunter and the undercover officer were subsequently taken to a cooler located in the building where Harding conducted his business. …Inside the cooler where the bear carcasses and skins were placed, the undercover officers saw five plastic 25 gallon garbage cans full of apple skins and cores, consistent with the apple pieces in the bait pile seen by the undercover officers.

I’m not a member of PETA, nor do I know too much about hunting (they don’t teach marksmanship in Hebrew school), but I wondered: Did the officer have to shoot the bear? And, since permits to shoot black bears are handed out by lottery, did the state create a permit just for the undercover officer?

Candy Thomson, a spokeswoman for the state’s Natural Resources Police, told me the undercover officer was a subpermittee, meaning he was hunting legally under the permit holders — in this case Harding and Harward. It was not shooting the bears so much as the tactics used by Harding and Harward, she said.

The case was important, Thomson added, because it was a test of the regulations put in place for the annual black bear hunts, which resumed Maryland in 2004 after a 51-year hiatus.

“We didn’t need to have someone already breaking the rules,” she said.

Thomson also noted the punishment will “shut down” Harding and Harward’s business.

“These are two guys who make a living doing this,” she said.

As part of their punishment, Harding and Harward also are not allowed to hunt on their own for three years.