ANNAPOLIS – Sunday deer hunts would be allowed under a proposed statewide plan to thin the burgeoning deer population in Maryland.
Under a bill in the House of Delegates, the deer hunting season for firearms would be extended statewide and would include up to three Sundays, an exemption to the current state law.
However, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s and parts of Frederick counties and the cities of Baltimore and Frederick would be excluded from Sunday deer hunts.
In those areas, the bill allows the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to use sharpshooters, lethal darts or euthanasia to cull deer herds.
Although many counties have their own deer management plans, the bill is a statewide remedy, said Delegate Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, a sponsor along with 16 other delegates.
“Increased population of deer is showing up in areas where they haven’t been observed before, like in communities and businesses,” Conway said Friday.
In fact, the deer population has steadily increased throughout the Northeast since the early 1900s, said Paul Peditto, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Heritage Service. The state estimates there are 35 deer per square mile on average in Maryland’s suburban areas, Peditto said.
These animals have been blamed for causing traffic hazards and destroying crops and landscape.
Since 1998, the state has operated under a 10-year comprehensive deer management plan that includes both lethal and nonlethal methods of reducing herds, including fencing and contraceptives on an experimental basis, Peditto said.
“Our ultimate goal is to stabilize deer numbers in the state until . . . the deer population is in balance with habitation and human neighbors,” Peditto said.
Similar bills in the past have failed in the General Assembly, and a heated debate is also expected this time around. The state’s Department of Natural Resources has not taken a position on the bill, said spokeswoman Heather Lynch.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals both oppose the bill, arguing that Sunday is the only day of respite during the hunting season.
“Hunters pursue and kill wildlife six of seven days, and homeowners and farmers and outdoor enthusiasts should have a day where they don’t have to contend with hunters discharging firearms in the woods and the fields,” said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society.
Conway acknowledged there would be opposition against Sunday deer hunts but said the proposed bill is a foundation for later discussions on the issue.
Still, Pacelle predicted the bill would die.
“This has been a tradition that has persisted,” he said, “well, pre-statehood.”