OAKLAND, Md. (AP) — Ka-ching! That's the sound of a bear biting into an ear of corn in a field in Garrett County.
Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching! That's the sound of a lot of bears biting into $23,800 worth of crops during 2015, mostly corn, but some oats and even beehives.
"Garrett County farmers are good at feeding bears, but with the price of sweet corn it's not cheap," said Jay Maust, whose farm and cornfields stretch out alongside Aiken Miller Road just a rifle shot from Accident in the heart of the state's bear country.
A year ago, Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service officials assessed the damage by black bears to Maust's sweet corn at $1,200 and reimbursed him $190.80.
None of the other 12 certified claimants did any better, each receiving 16 percent of cost of the damage at their farms. Here's the breakdown:
- Ken Bachtel, Oakland, corn damage assessment of $2,700 and reimbursement of $429.30
- Mike Beachy, Barton, corn, $3,000 and $477
- Richard Bernard, Swanton, corn and oats, $3,000 and $477
- Garrett Dixon, Oakland, beehives, $350 and $55.65
- Joshua McKnight, Swanton, corn, $1,200 and $190.80
- Donnie O'Brien, Swanton, corn, $1,200 and $190.80
- Dennis Rodeheaver, Grantsville, beehives, $350 and $55.65
- Andrew Sebold, McHenry, corn, $2,700 and $429.30
- Nevin Sines, Oakland, corn, $2,400 and $381.60
- Randall Steyer, Oakland, corn, $2,100 and $333.90
- Allen Wilhelm, Lonaconing, corn, $1,800 and $286.20
"When we get a call about crop damage we send someone to assess it," said Harry Spiker, black bear project leader for WHS.
"Bears go into the middle of cornfields and start pulling down stalks," Spiker said. "They feel safe because they can't be seen in there and farmers may not know there is damage until they begin to harvest."
Maust said the bears damage more corn by rolling around and knocking down stalks than they do by eating it.
"And when they eat an ear it is usually on one side," he said.
Spiker said he has seen damage pockets as big as 60 yards across in the middle of cornfields, but the typical one is 15 square yards.
"And of course you see the bear's scat and tracks and hair," he said.
The damage is assessed by the number of square feet and that information is given to the local county extension agent who determines the price of the crop and calculates the monetary loss.
In 2015, $26,073 in damages was documented and $4,149 was reimbursed.
By state law, there are two sources of money for the program, donations and revenue from the sale of Black Bear Conservation Program items such as mugs, T-shirts and Teddy bears.
The items can be purchased at the DNR Outdoor Store. Donations can be made by hunters when they apply for a black bear hunting permit. That application period is taking place now through Aug. 31.
The revenue from the nonrefundable $15 fee applicants must pay goes into the agency's general fund and is not used to pay farmers, according to Spiker. In 2015, more than 4,000 hunters applied.
"In fact, that money is usually not enough to pay for putting on the hunt," Spiker said. A portion is used to pay for the company that conducts the permit lottery. WHS staff time is another large cost.
In 2015, the mugs and T-shirts and prints et al brought in $2,694. Donations from hunters totaled $1,455.
"The law doesn't allow us to consider claims less than $200 and caps claims at $3,000," Spiker said.
The 2016 crop-damage season has already started, according to Spiker.
"Our cooperator used dogs to run bears out of cornfields today," Spiker said, speaking of hound owners contracted for that purpose.
The location? Jay Maust's farm on Airken Miller Road.
In fact, the dogs were back on a recent Wednesday morning and treed a radio-collared sow, Spiker said
Maust said it's common to have the dogs running bears on his property 15 times a summer.
"You just have to run them until the bears get the idea that a barking dog means they better leave," he said.
Maust recalled one growing season when bears destroyed 250 dozen ears of corn during a two-night rampage. He said it is possible to lose up to $3,600 worth of corn an acre on some of his better fields.
Maust's sweet corn is some of the earliest to mature in the area, he said, meaning his bear damage begins before the problem is seen on other farms.
Damage from deer is also a problem, but Maust said he has an agreement with them.
"They eat my corn and I eat them," he said.
The bears don't get all of Maust's corn, of course. Much of it is sold at his farm at 528 Aiken Miller Rd. It's self-serve. Just pull up, get the corn and put the money in the jar.
And watch out for bears.