Assembly nears OK on deer hunting plan

Bill would allow shooting on first Sunday of season

April 05, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The General Assembly has all but approved a proposal that would permit deer hunting in some counties on Sundays for the first time since Colonial times.

The proposal, approved yesterday by the Senate, 39-4, also would extend Maryland's deer hunting season from 13 days to 21 days in all of the state's 23 counties.

But the bill, a priority for House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, is but a shadow of the measure as introduced, after senators excluded 11 counties with floor amendments. The proposal now would allow Sunday hunting in seven counties, mostly in Western and Southern Maryland, but only on the first Sunday of deer season.

The House of Delegates is expected to concur with the Senate amendments, possibly as soon as today.

"This will give us the opportunity to show everyone that Sunday hunting is not to be feared and not what they think it is," said Tim Lambert, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association. "It's just another day of hunting."

But several groups - including farmers, horseback riders, bird watchers, religious groups and animal rights activists - opposed the proposal because they believe Sunday should be a day reserved for nonhunters.

"Sunday is the only day that wildlife watchers in the state can venture into the woods without fear of being shot," said Jeff Leitner of the Fund For Animals.

The Department of Natural Resources estimates that there are 225,000 deer in the state today compared with 150,000 in 1991.

The legislation is designed to curb that population because deer, among other things, are causing millions of dollars in damage to crops and landscaping. There were also 4,000 car-deer accidents in the state last year.

When the bill was introduced in January, it called for extending the hunting season to 21 days, including up to three Sundays, except in Central Maryland. But in an effort to forge a compromise, the House Environmental Matters Committee limited Sunday hunting to only the first Sunday of deer season, which usually begins the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The Senate's decision yesterday to exclude an additional 11 counties from Sunday hunting weakened the bill further.

"In Frederick County, we are a growing county and people who don't hunt do not want Sunday hunting," said Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Frederick County Republican who asked that his county be excluded.

The proposal would permit Sunday hunting in Calvert, Charles, St. Mary's, Dorchester, Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties.

During the floor debate, some senators joked about killing deer on Sunday. "The thought of these beasts running free on Sundays fills me with fear and trepidation," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who voted against the bill.

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