ANNAPOLIS – After a week of debate and failed floor amendments, the Maryland House of Delegates Friday approved wildlife control bills decried by animal-rights activists and outdoor enthusiasts as shortsighted and simply wrong.
Despite loud opposition, a one-Sunday deer hunt and a program to kill nuisance black bears gained majority support.
The proposals were not examined on their merits, but approved because of “arm twisting” by the House leadership, said Julie Janovsky, a lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States present during voting.
“(The votes) were all based on political maneuvering,” Janovsky said, noting House Speaker Casper Taylor, D-Allegany, supports both bills. “The public sentiment as demonstrated by these hearings is opposed to Sunday hunting and a trophy hunt on black bears.”
The House Environmental Matters Committee, whose members said Friday that they sought balance, weakened the approved bills.
The original deer bill included at least three Sundays for the firearms season, but the committee last week approved a version allowing hunting only on the first Sunday of the season.
Excluded from the Sunday deer hunt would be Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s and parts of Frederick counties and the cities of Baltimore and Frederick.
Designed to cull the burgeoning deer population in Maryland, the bill also would extend the firearms season from 13 to 21 days.
Before the 94-36 vote Friday, Environmental Matters Committee Chairman John Hurson, D-Montgomery, urged delegates to approve the Sunday deer hunting bill. Allowing hunting on the first Sunday of the season would make a “significant dent” in the deer population because one-third of all kills are taken on the first Saturday, Hurson said.
“Forty-four states allow Sunday hunting,” he said. “We are asking for one Sunday.”
But fellow Montgomery County Delegate Sharon Grosfeld said a state task force examining the deer population advocated nonlethal methods.
Outdoor enthusiasts and animal-rights activists have adamantly opposed Sunday hunting, arguing Sundays are the only day of respite during hunting season.
The bear management bill, approved by a 102-32 margin, also was much changed from the original. Instead of creating a limited black bear season as the bill originally intended, the proposal would institute a management permit program. The Department of Natural Resources would issue permits to landowners – – or a designee in certain situations — who can demonstrate their property has been damaged or their lives or livestock threatened.
But landowners must first show they have taken reasonable preventive measures against the nuisance bear. Landowners also may kill nuisance bear at a nearby property not owned by them – a point of contention by several delegates. An amendment requiring landowners to get written consent from the owner of the nearby property was rejected earlier this week. “Some human being could be fatally harmed because there was no written consent required,” Grosfeld said Friday as she reminded delegates of her amendment. Granting a permit to a designee can get out of hand, said Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery. “Under the terms of the bill, you could designate all your buddies to hunt,” he said. That’s not true, countered Hurson. “The bill is a permit that you could designate one person, if you choose, to kill one bear,” he said. However, the bill does not include such details mentioned by Hurson, said Jeff Leitner of the Fund for Animals. It is also unnecessary, he said. Current law already allows landowners to kill bears if their lives are threatened, Leitner said. The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee has not yet voted on the bear bill.