Ehrlich signs Sunday hunting law

Archers, shooters given extra day each per year to bag deer in 12 counties

Outdoors

April 23, 2003|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

With the stroke of a pen yesterday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. ended a 280-year ban on Sunday deer hunting in Maryland by authorizing one day each for archers and shooters.

The law allows hunting on private land in 12 rural counties in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

"I never thought I'd live long enough to see this," said former Del. Michael Weir, 79, who championed Sunday hunting legislation during his 28 years in the House of Delegates.

Last year, the state legislature approved a single Sunday of hunting, only to see the bill vetoed by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Weir attributed this year's successful campaign to growing public frustration over the damage caused by the state's burgeoning deer population, estimated at 250,000.

"You have more people being hurt in car accidents with deer, and people are tired of deer eating their bushes and causing crop damage," he said. "Bambi's lost a few friends over the years."

The law sets aside the first Sunday in November for archers and the first Sunday in modern firearms season. (This year they fall on Nov. 2 and 30.)

It continues the ban in Central Maryland and Frederick, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

The Department of Natural Resources will develop hunting regulations that incorporate the new law, a process that will take about four months, said Mark Hoffman, who oversees legislative matters for the agency.

Sunday hunting was the highest priority for sportsmen's groups and the 70-member bipartisan Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus. The bill was approved by overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate.

Animal rights advocates and recreational groups such as equestrians and bird watchers lobbied Ehrlich to veto the measure and expressed disappointment that he did not.

Michael Markarian, president of the Fund for Animals, noted that, during last fall's gubernatorial campaign, Ehrlich said he opposed Sunday hunting in a questionnaire from the 20,000-member Maryland Sportsmen's Association.

"It's outrageous that he flip-flopped and sided with hunters, and it's ironic that he signed a bill on Earth Day that will force thousands of people who enjoy wildlife watching to stay indoors for their safety," Markarian said.

Markarian predicted voters would remember the governor's action in three years.

"This is Gov. Ehrlich's animal protection record in his first year. He thumbed his nose at the people," he said.

DNR biologists say they need to add days within the five-month deer-hunting season if they are to have any chance of keeping the population in check.

Forty states permit some form of Sunday hunting, although the states bordering Maryland do not. West Virginia allows local jurisdictions to decide, and 41 of 55 counties voted last year to prohibit Sunday hunting.

In a compromise, Maryland lawmakers reduced the number of hunting Sundays in the bill from six to two and required DNR to issue a report by Jan. 15 on the deer population and the public's reaction to the additional hunting days.

Steve Huettner, president of the MSA, said the bill was extending to hunters the same right enjoyed by other outdoor recreational groups.

Huettner, who stood behind Ehrlich as he signed the bill and received one of the ceremonial pens, smiled as he put it in his pocket.

"You know what I'm going to do with it?" he asked. "I'm going to use it to fill out my first tag on the first deer I take on Sunday."

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