Conservation group claims authorities have inflated bearpopulation to allow over-hunting



Associated Press Writer


 BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ A wildlife protection group saidMonday that authorities have inflated the number of brownbears
in Romania to allow hunters to shoot more animalsthan would be legally allowed for the protected species.
 The Aves Foundation, a respected Romanian conservationgroup, also appealed to Prime Minister Adrian Nastase toorder a
recount of the bear population and impose stricterlimits on hunting to prevent the bears from going extinct.
 «In 10 years, we could see a total or partialdisappearance of the bear population» unless limits areplaced now on
hunting, Laszlo Szabo-Szeley, the group'spresident, said by telephone.
 In its report sent to Nastase, the group said it estimatesthat 2,500 bears live in Romania _ much lower than theofficial
figure of 6,300.
 A spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, Gabriel Garban,dismissed the report and said that the government sticks byits
 «The report is unrealistic and biased,» Garban said,adding that a population of 4,000 bears would be optimumfor the
amount of space they have to roam in theirenvironment, the Carpathian mountains.
 Szabo-Szeley said his group estimates that 60 percent ofthe bear population has disappeared since 1989, when
formerdictator Nicolae Ceausescu was toppled and executed.
 At that time, the country's forests were teeming withbears and other animals because bear hunting was outlawedfor
everyone except Ceausescu and his close associates.
 But since then, hunting has grown in popularity,especially among the elite.
 Szabo-Szeley said his group's figures are based onmeasurements of bear numbers in the central county ofHarghita over the
past 30 years.
 He said that of an estimated 7,800 bears in 1989, some1,200 were living in Harghita. According to thefoundation's field
studies, only 260 live their now.
 Last year, the government approved the hunting of 650bears, Garban said.