Friday, October 31, 2014

Public Comment - Sunday Hunting in Western Maryland

Conservationist Supports Sunday Hunting in Western Maryland as Proposed

My name is River Mud.  I have hunted in Maryland, including the Maryland counties under this proposal, for the greatest part of 20 years.  I also have hiked, kayaked, and walked my dog in this region, all during hunting season, without feeling unsafe due to hunters' presence.  I have worked in private lands conservation and habitat enhancement for almost 20 years, and I fully support the pending proposal for less restrictive Sunday hunting. 

More than 10 years after Maryland's first Sunday hunt, opponents still can't say exactly what's wrong with the massively successful policy.    There are not even anecdotal tales, let alone confirmed instances or law enforcement reports, of any known conflicts between hunters and non-hunters on public or private lands during a Sunday hunt.    Not even one.  Not in eleven years!  (Cue: unfounded, several year-old allegations of Sunday hunting conflicts....3....2....1.....) The opposition to Sunday hunting is about two things: unfounded fear, and a desire to control what others do in the wee hours in the dead of winter.  As a Maryland taxpayer and a conservationist, I find those two things quite odd, and certainly not  good bases for creating public policy.

The "Safety" Opposition:  Statistics are clear:  there are no Sunday-specific landowner conflicts - as landowners must give written permission to hunt in Maryland (and if the property is posted, riders and hikers must obtain permission as well).   There are no Sunday-specific safety issues, as hunting season (and preponderance of hunters in the field) occurs largely occurs during the times of year when most non-hunters are not outdoor in significant numbers.  44 states have Sunday hunting, and hunting accidents (largely only injuring the hunter perpetrating the accident) are no more prevalent there than they are in states without Sunday hunting. 

The "Exclusive Use of the Woods" Opposition:  As I sit in the goose blind or tree stand in January, windchills in the single digits, I keep an eye out for hikers, for dog walkers, for kayakers.  Those people, arguably more sane in their choice of free time activity, are settled in for a warm morning on the couch with friends and family.    They simply are not outdoors.  No one is riding a horse on state property on a Sunday when there is a foot of snow on the ground.  But bow hunters are there.  No one is kayaking the Potomac as the ice floes break and cartwheel downstream.  But duck hunters are there.  No one is walking their dog in blinding snow in a state forest, temperatures at dawn hovering at 0.  But grouse hunters are there.

The "Increased Poacher/Trespasser" Opposition.  If poachers exist on private lands, they should be arrested.  By Maryland law, anyone outside the immediate family of the landowner who is hunting private land without explicit written permission of the landowner is poaching - and a poacher.   The argument that Sunday hunting will lead to Sunday poaching is a spurious one - as poachers already operate on Sundays - the winter woods, fields, and waters free of the watchful eyes of legal hunters.  No data from the 44 states with Sunday hunting shows that game violations of any type have increased as a result of Sunday hunting.

The "Raining Bullets" Opposition.  It is illegal to shoot a squirrel with a pellet gun on Sunday.  However it is not illegal to detonate explosives, fire a banned, fully automatic machine gun all day, shoot hundreds of rifle, handgun, or shotgun rounds into the edge of the forest during target practice, or really any other type of shooting that isn't focused "at" a game species.  A successful deer hunt in Maryland ends with one shot fired.  A successful goose hunt? One or two shots fired.  A successful bow hunt? One arrow.  The likelihood of having a full, successful harvest?  Less than 25% on any given day.  So cue up those machine guns, but no Red Ryders allowed.  This is Sunday in Maryland.

The "Day of Rest for Wildlife" Opposition.   Several years ago, I took a beautiful photograph of a bald eagle killing a bufflehead duck on a Sunday.  It reminded me that wildlife doesn't get a day off until each animal dies.  Nearly a century ago, wildlife biologists (and I am one) put to rest the parochial notion that wildlife need or receive a "day of rest."  Disease, starvation, and predators all abound on Sundays.  Cars still hit deer on Sundays.  The "day of rest" concept is nonsensical and not based in fact. 

In conclusion, Sunday hunting is safe and it is equitable.  Sportsmen, the conservationists who contribute the most in volunteer time and in money to the state's natural resources should not be excluded from the woods, fields, and waters on Sundays because of unfounded fears that have been statistically disproven in every state that keeps wildlife law enforcement and hunting safety and fatality data.    If conflicts occur on private land, it means that someone is not where they are supposed to be - a reality for which criminal and civil penalties already exist, and must be enforced.  If conflicts ever do occur on public land, users should absolutely mediate a solution to ensure the incident isn't repeated.  

Why opponents of Sunday hunting keep insisting that these dire predictions are inevitable, and are only related to Sunday hunting, is perplexing.   The facts are apparent - Maryland's Sunday hunting ban was a clear violation of law.  Providing Sunday hunting access is a sensitive topic and must be handled thoughtfully, as it has been in Maryland over the last 11 years.   As a life-long conservationist and career wildlife habitat ecologist, I applaud Maryland DNR for this proposal on Sunday hunting and the long and thoughtful process by which it was brought about. 

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