State parks hold future of hunting

OUTDOORS

May 01, 1994|By GARY DIAMOND

By carefully examining aerial photos, especially those showing areas surrounding Bel Air, you're immediately faced with the stark reality that there's no place in Harford County where a person can get more than a mile from an occupied building. Even in the county's less populated northern tier, most farms are relatively small and residential developments are springing up everywhere.

One of the problems with urban sprawl is that it decreases the amount of suitable habitat available for wildlife.

Two decades ago, Harford County residents thought nothing of seeing a half-dozen pheasants foraging for kernels of corn from fields along Route 24. Hedge rows bordering those same fields held large populations of rabbits, fox, quail and other forms of upland game.

The adjacent, surrounding stands of hardwood provided an excellent environment for gray squirrels, flying squirrels and whitetail deer, animals that have been displaced by development.

Despite the Department of Natural Resource's effort to open more public lands to hunting, local hunters now have less land available for this activity than they did a decade ago. Additionally, the county's density of occupied dwellings limits weapons they can safely use to pursue their sport. Fortunately, there's a solution to this problem.

Many areas currently closed to all forms of hunting, especially vast tracts of hardwood forests in Susquehanna and Rocks state parks, could be opened to hunting.

However, because the parks are surrounded by dense housing developments, well within the range of modern firearms, deer hunting could be limited to archery only. This would provide wildlife managers with a method of controlling the park's exploding whitetail population, while providing hunters with increased areas to safely hunt.

Pheasant and quail populations are depressed to the point where hunting likely will be severely curtailed or eliminated during the next few years. The reason behind their decline in population is not the result of over-hunting, but instead, loss of suitable habitat. However, gray squirrel and rabbit populations are exploding, especially in the parks.

Currently, Maryland law permits hunting squirrels and other small game animals with .22-caliber rifles, but again, the proximity of residential and commercial structures makes their use unsafe.

The overall range of a .22 long rifle shell is approximately 1.5 miles, while the .22 magnum has a range of nearly two miles. Although a shotgun firing a load of No. 6 pellets has an effective range of less than 100 yards, the roar of a 12-gauge shotgun being discharged a few hundred yards from your home can be somewhat intimidating.

New technology in the development of modern pellet rifles makes them an effective alternative for small-game hunting. Not only are the rifles extremely accurate, they pack sufficient punch at relatively short range to quickly dispatch squirrels or rabbits. Additionally, pellet rifles are nearly silent, with just a slight pop sound made when discharged, thus, no loud blast is heard by those living in nearby residential areas.

To open or expand hunting opportunities at both Rocks and Susquehanna state parks, the activity could be limited to weekdays, when the parks are nearly deserted.

Additionally, during the time of year when small-game seasons are open, both parks see very limited use.

Will additional public lands soon be opened to hunting? According to the DNR's State Forest and Park Service, biologists and forestry personnel are taking a serious look at several locations as well as new methods of managing their wildlife populations.

Among the parks being considered for limited hunting in the near future are Susquehanna, Rocks, Gunpowder and Patapsco.

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