Sunday deer-hunt bill in Ehrlich's hands

OUTDOORS

Outdoors

April 08, 2003|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Maryland hunters would be allowed to pursue deer on Sunday for the first time in 300 years under legislation approved last night by the General Assembly.

The measure, which goes to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for his signature, would permit hunting only on private land during one Sunday in the November archery season and the first Sunday in modern firearms season.

It requires hunters to get written permission from landowners and concentrates hunting in less-populated, rural jurisdictions. Excluded from the two-day extension are all Central Maryland counties plus Frederick, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

In a pre-election survey conducted by the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, Ehrlich said he opposed Sunday hunting on private land. A spokesman in the governor's office said last night that he has not formally taken a position on the bill.

But Department of Natural Resources officials were permitted to testify in favor of the measure as a way to help control the state's burgeoning deer population, estimated at nearly 250,000.

"We are looking forward to demonstrating how this will work as a management tool," said Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service, yesterday morning as he waited for the final version of the bill to be approved.

Animal rights' groups and other outdoors users were disappointed with the outcome.

"This bill thumbs its nose at the overwhelming number of Maryland residents who do not want Sunday hunting," said Michael Markarian, president of the Silver Spring-based Fund for Animals. "Hunters already have six out of seven days during hunting season. It's an issue of fair use."

Forty states permit Sunday hunting in some form. Maryland is one of six states that prohibit Sunday deer hunting on public land.

Last year, the House and Senate approved a bill to permit deer hunting on one Sunday during the firearms season. It was vetoed by then-Gov. Parris Glendening, who said he had received numerous letters from campers, hikers and horseback riders who raised the safety issue.

However, Peditto told House and Senate committees that even with liberal bag limits, hunters were reaching their maximum effectiveness during the five-month hunting season.

"We're running out of options," he said.

In 2001, there were 4,000 deer-vehicle collisions in the state, with repair bills exceeding $8 million. Deer ate almost $14 million worth of corn, soybeans and wheat that year, and deer damage to shrubs, flowers and vegetable gardens at homes in suburbs surrounding Baltimore and Washington tops $20 million annually.

The legislation would require DNR to report to the General Assembly by Jan. 15, 2004, the status of the deer population in each of Maryland's four hunting regions, the effectiveness of the revised deer management policy and citizen response to the increased hunting opportunities.

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