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April 13, 2014

Horse Council asks Governor to veto Sunday hunting bills

Here is the letter the Horse Council sent to Governor O'Malley, asking him to veto the bills that would allow Sunday hunting on both public and private land in Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

April 4, 2014
The Honorable Martin J. O'Malley Governor of Maryland
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Governor O'Malley:

The Maryland Horse Council has worked hard during this legislative session alongside other organizations representing outdoor recreation interests to block the expansion of Sunday hunting in Maryland. Our senators and delegates listened at hearing after hearing as our members and allies (many of whom are avid deer hunters) described the need for one day each week in the period from October into January when we can hike, ride horses, watch birds, and do whatever we like outdoors without fear of encounters with hunters, and when the deer herd itself can "settle." Several statewide Sunday hunting bills as well as county bills in Anne Arundel, Calvert, and Harford were successfully blocked.

We had a very productive meeting with DNR Secretary Gill on March 5 at which we pointed out the inconsistency of DNR's positions on this issue. On the one hand, DNR actively lobbies for expanding Sunday hunting, saying that it is necessary to achieve their goal of controlling the deer population. On the other hand, DNR has publicly stated its desire to increase the deer population in western Maryland, and opposed a southern Maryland bill that would establish a program to train deer hunters to reduce the herd on farms. We also pointed out to Secretary Gill that the statistics DNR uses to lobby for Sunday hunting are drawn from annual harvest reports that actually demonstrate Sunday hunting's failure to increase the overall harvest.

As a result of our March 5 meeting, Secretary Gill asked the budget committees to include a request that DNR conduct a Deer Population Management Report (Committee Narrative K00A03.01) to assess the relative impact of Sunday hunting versus other deer herd reduction strategies. We were impressed by Secretary Gill's responsiveness to our concerns and look forward to working with DNR as they compile information for this study and write the report. We also appreciate your recent appointment of Joe Michael to the Wildlife Advisory Committee. His participation will improve the Maryland Horse Council's ability to better inform our members of DNR intentions with respect to hunting days.

Unfortunately, two Sunday hunting bills slipped through the legislative process and will appear for your signature. SB 472 / HB 406 and SB 473 / HB 432 allow DNR to authorize Sunday hunting in Frederick, Allegany, Washington, and Garrett counties, one for just deer and the other for all species. Residents of those counties are just learning of this unfortunate turn of events and realizing what it will mean for their 2014-2015 outdoor calendars. The bills passed under the pretense of a need to reduce the deer herd in those western counties, despite DNR's public statement of its desire to increase the herd in parts of this region [DNR 2014-2016 Regulation Concepts, February 19, 2014].

According to an opinion survey conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, VA for DNR and appended to DNR's Maryland White-tailed Deer Plan 2009-2018, "Opposition exceeds support for deer hunting on Sundays in Maryland among Maryland residents. On the other hand, among deer hunters, a majority support hunting deer on Sundays. Large landowners are like residents in that opposition exceeds support for hunting deer on Sundays."

Given the undue burden on the 98% of Marylanders who do not hunt, Sunday hunting should not be permitted unless it can be definitively shown that it is a critically essential tool for managing wildlife, and that no other method that preserves safe Sundays is effective.

Therefore, the Maryland Horse Council respectfully requests that you take one of two courses of action:
1.Veto SB 472 / HB 406 and SB 473 / HB 432 with a statement to the effect that DNR is undertaking a study on deer population management to determine the need for Sunday hunting, or
2. Sign SB 472 / HB 406 and SB 473 / HB 432 only after securing a commitment from DNR Secretary Gill that DNR will not authorize the Sunday hunting that the bills permit until after publication of its 2014 Deer Population Management Report, which will have given all the various stakeholders (hikers, mountain bikers, cross- country skiers, bird watchers, equestrians, etc., as well as hunters and farmers) the chance to work out a comprehensive solution to the deer management problem that really works, while preserving safe Sundays.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Respectfully,

Jane Seigler
´┐╝President

cc: Sen. MIller
Del. Busch
Sen. Joan Conway Del. Macintosh Sec. Gill
Ms. Ashley Valis

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