Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Across the country, advocates for our hunting heritage are working tirelessly to expand access and opportunity to hunters. More hunting days. More places to hunt. More ways to hunt. Extensive studies show that these factors help drive hunter retention and recruitment within our community. Those same studies show that the failure to expand opportunities for hunting has coincided with a decrease not only in hunters, but in participants in other outdoor activities as well. Anti-hunting activists are well aware of this, and are working throughout the country, including throughout Virginia, to decrease the amount of access and opportunity that hunters might have. Anti-hunters, of course, dream of a day when hunting is no longer legal.
In Virginia today, a perplexing thing will happen. You see, within the first three full days of Virginia's 2013 Legislative Session, no less than five separate bills were proposed to expand hunting opportunities for Virginians (and for big spending hunters interested in traveling to Virginia). These bills all seem to reflect a variety of well-thought out issues related to Sunday hunting - from deer and deer tick population control in Northern Virginia (HB 1762) to the transfer of the "sunday hunting ban" on military installations to the discretion of the base commander, to a revocation of the "sunday hunting ban" on private properties only (HB 2225). None of the proposals, on their face, seem unreasonable or absurd.
So, as in years past, it is time for Delegate Lee Ware's Natural Resources SubCommittee to go to work on the business of governance. This is particularly perplexing for Delegate Ware, who has been a vocal opponent of Sunday hunting. Well, sort of. Let's recall Ware's record here - he staunchly opposes Sunday hunting, but authored a bill - which became law - to make it illegal for game wardens to "assume" that a hunter "in the woods with a gun" is "hunting on Sunday."). I think we can all agree that Ware paints himself into an amusing corner on the issue.
What's less amusing is that Ware has the opportunity to "get right" with the hunting community and with property rights advocates in the Commonwealth - by simply allowing some limited form of Sunday hunting for the general public, at least in some counties, at least for those who can get landowner permission or who are hunting on their very own property. Yet, he will not get right. He won't change at all, in fact.
He scheduled every single Sunday hunting related bill to be heard and discussed, off the record, one after the other, rapid fire, at 5:00pm on the Subcommittee's first full day of business (today, January 16, 2013) (previous to today, their time has been taken up in committees as well as in the approval of elected state judges, and other formalities of the Session). The Bills' patrons have individually requested extensions for times and dates more conducive to discussion and debate. Ware has rebuffed each request. Delegate Lee Ware intends to use his privilege as Sub-Committee Chair to continue to summarily prevent landowners from hunting on their own property one day a week. Many of his donors are hunters. Some oppose Sunday hunting. Some favor Sunday hunting. All voted for him. In my mind, that means that a detailed consideration of this legislation is very important.
Delegate Lee Ware doesn't believe that he is harming the future of hunting of Virginia - one of only seven states with an outright ban on sunday hunting. He probably doesn't know (even though the NRA has reported on it several times) that Virginia is one of the few states that are not gaining hunters, and in fact, Virginia is suffering approximately a 3% attrition rate for hunting license sales - one of the worst in the nation. All this while moms and dads shuttle kids around on Saturdays, and on Sundays, have to fumble for an answer when their kids ask, "Why can't we go hunting after church, but we can go fishing and target shooting and bike riding?"
Delegate Lee Ware, it appears to me, has never considered these things because they are not reality to him - and not because he is dumb, or lazy, or selfish. His family and his local friends enjoy a strong hunting tradition, rooted in decades of family, business, church fellowship, and good relationships that lead to high quality access to tens of thousands of acres of hunting land. No, I really don't believe that Ware knows he is harming our sporting tradition. I don't believe that he's in any way aware that true threats to our traditions really exist, because perhaps these threats have not quite permeated the conversations of hunters in his area. An area where terms like "hunter harassment" and "interfering with a legal hunt" are foreign phrases.
But the anti-hunters know. Oh boy, do they. I've read that they've stopped sending representatives to Richmond on this issue because they know that they can count on Republican Lee Ware to represent their best interest - to slowly but steadily put out the flame of hunting tradition in Virginia. They won't have to fight property rights advocates who rightly ask, "Why sunday, on my land?" They won't have to face it, because Lee Ware will handle it for them, without knowing he's doing them a favor.
And today, at 5:00pm, every Sunday hunting-related bill proposed to the Virginia House of Delegates will be summarily tabled for another year. Anti-hunting activists and eco-terrorists will celebrate. So will Lee Ware and his staff. Both camps will claim victory. But only one group actually prevailed.
If you listen closely, you can hear their celebration across the miles: "Here's to 3% fewer Virginia hunters in 2013! Three cheers for Lee Ware!"
If this lack of government transparency concerns you, please use the Commonwealth's "Who's My Legislator?" tool to contact your local delegate today, January 16, 2013. Please request (politely) that they ask Delegate Ware for the Bill to be heard outside of the Subcommittee, in the ACNR. Even if you do not support Sunday hunting, please allow the Bill to be heard, on the record.