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January 30, 2017

MHC testifies on hunting bills in Montgomery and Howard Counties

MHC testifies on proposed hunting bills in Montgomery and Howard Counties.

Here is the text of the Montgomery bill, which adds deer hunting on Sunday mornings. 

Here is our testimony:

Testimony of the Maryland Horse Council in support of Bill MC 21-17

January 26, 2017

My name is Jane Seigler, and I am the President of the Maryland Horse Council (“the Horse Council”) and a resident and landowner in Laytonsville, Montgomery County, Maryland. 

Executive Summary - 

  • The horse industry in Montgomery County is a large, engaged and thriving constituency, and a strong economic engine: 3,300 direct equine related jobs in the county; 1500 properties occupying over 15,000 acres; $510,000,000 in total assets and $23,000,000 in annual capital expenditures. (See attached brochure for sources.)
  • Deer over population is a serious health, public safety and economic problem in Montgomery County.
  • Sunday hunting is demonstrably not an effective solution to that problem. For example, In Carroll and Frederick Counties, after they vastly expanded Sunday hunting, the deer harvest fell (see footnote 1, below).
  • Therefore, Sunday hunting is not an effective deer management tool; it is rather a hunter convenience tool. Convenience is surely a benefit, but it is a benefit that should be available to all constituents equitably, not just one segment. In 2014, the Horse Council conducted a statewide survey on Sunday hunting. About 25% of the respondents were Montgomery County residents, the second highest rate of response in the state. 68% of respondents ride on trails on public or private land one or more days a week. And, perhaps most significantly, 85% said they changed their schedules or riding locations to avoid encountering hunters.
  • More effective deer management tools could be used, including more use of managed hunts (sharpshooters) on private land; increased use of DMPs (crop damage permits), which currently are only about 25% fulfilled; exploration of the possibility of allowing venison harvested under DMPs to be sold.
  • Nevertheless, in the interest of putting this issue to rest in the County for five years, the Maryland Horse Council supports MC 21-17 as a reasonable compromise, insofar as it allows Sunday hunting only on private land, and requires Sunday hunting to end at 10:30 am, (except for the three full days currently permitted under DNR rules). We would not support any attempt to add Sunday afternoon hunting.

The Maryland Horse Council (MHC) is a membership-based, umbrella trade association of the entire horse industry in Maryland. Our membership includes over 40 breed, interest and discipline associations, plus horse farms and stables, horse-related businesses, and horse owners representing all facets of the Maryland equestrian community, from the owners of race horses to the owners of trail horses or just beloved retired companion horses. The owner of Pimlico, Laurel and Rosecroft racetracks is a member, as are vets, tack stores, and other farms and businesses in Montgomery County and throughout the state. As such, we represent over 30,000 Marylanders. Although we are a statewide organization, the highest proportion of our members are Montgomery County residents.

The horse industry in Maryland in general and in Montgomery County in particular is a large, engaged and thriving constituency, and a strong economic engine. The results of an economic impact survey conducted by the Sage Policy Group, Inc. and released on November 21, 2016, reveal that horse industry spending statewide increased by 19% between 2010 and 2015 in real terms, and by 29% in nominal terms. In addition, the industry directly and indirectly supports almost 10,000 jobs associated with nearly half a billion dollars in wages and salaries, has about $1.15 billion in statewide economic impact, and contributes nearly $70 million dollars in state and local government revenue. A brochure illustrating similar data for Montgomery County is attached to this testimony, and is incorporated by reference herein.

The Horse Council supports MC 21-17, insofar as it mirrors statewide proposed legislation that the Horse Council supported in the last legislative session. That legislation proposed allowing Sunday hunting on private lands on all Sundays in the deer firearms season, from one half hour before sunrise to 10:30 am. The Horse Council, however, opposes any recreational Sunday hunting on public lands. The Horse Council has also not taken a position supporting any Sunday hunting in the archery season.

The issue of recreational Sunday hunting is certainly a fraught one. According to the public opinion survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the 2009 – 2018 White-Tailed Deer Plan, a majority of landowners and of the general public oppose Sunday hunting. This position is shared by most outdoor recreation groups other than the deer hunters themselves. 

The Horse Council has been studying and advocating on Sunday hunting throughout the state for over 14 years. It is important to make clear that the Horse Council is not opposed to hunting. Many of our members are hunters of deer, other game mammals and game birds. Many Horse Council members are also farmers, and are painfully aware of the enormous crop damage that deer inflict, as well as the problems of vehicle collisions and Lyme disease.

Through our years of studying DNR data, we are unconvinced that recreational hunting is the best solution for the very real problem of deer overpopulation. These data reveal that despite expansion of Sunday hunting in some other jurisdictions, deer harvest numbers are dropping. (And given the widely acknowledged “ghost doe” problem (i.e., some hunters phone in false reports of the number of does harvested, in order to become eligible to shoot a trophy buck), those numbers may actually be artificially inflated.) We have looked at DNR harvest numbers in Carroll and Frederick Counties - two counties that are fairly similar to Montgomery in climate, topography, demographics and development, and which have had a number of Sunday hunting days added in recent years. In both cases, the harvest numbers declined substantially after Sundays were added.

It is sometimes argued that the declining numbers of recreational hunters is in part responsible for the declining harvest, but that begs the question of whether relying on recreational hunters is therefore “backing the wrong horse” in the effort to reduce the deer population. Adding Sundays demonstrably does not increase the harvest; it just affords recreational hunters the luxury of choosing which weekend day to devote to hunting, thereby spreading the same number of deer kills over seven days instead of six. So adding Sundays is arguably more a matter of hunter convenience than sound deer management. Convenience is surely a benefit, but it is a benefit that should be available to all constituents equitably, not just one segment. 

It is also sometimes argued that recreational hunters need Sundays because they have other things to do on Saturdays - a situation that plainly applies to most of Montgomery County’s users of outdoor resources, be they hunters, birdwatchers, dog walkers, mountain bikers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and trail riders. So why should one group get special consideration - especially since, as the numbers clearly show, Sunday hunting does not increase the harvest? Where is the balancing of the public good? In 2014, the Horse Council conducted a statewide survey on Sunday hunting. About 25% of the respondents were Montgomery County residents, the second highest rate of response in the state. 68% of respondents ride on trails on public or private land one or more days a week. And, perhaps most significantly, 85% said they changed their schedules or riding locations to avoid encountering hunters.

We of course recognize that private land owners have some right to decide what uses they want to allow on their land. But such rights have never been absolute, as any review of zoning and land use rules can plainly establish. And, as a practical matter the public/private land distinction affords little relief since - especially in Montgomery County - public and private tracts are often relatively small, non-contiguous, intertwined and rarely well-marked. In our survey, referenced above, 56% of respondents said they ride on trails that cross both public and private land.

The Horse Council wants to see actions that will be truly effective in, not just give lip service to,  solving the deer overpopulation problem. Here are just a few ideas for consideration, especially when considered in light of the goal of actually, effectively, reducing the deer population.

1) The most effective means of reducing the herd is NOT recreational hunting, but managed hunts (sharp shooters). More use could be made of this tool on private lands.

2) Crop damage permits are not being fully utilized, and more needs to be done to increase their use. According to DNR data, in Montgomery County, (as well as statewide), only about 25% of the deer tags issued under crop damage permits are actually being used.

3) The Horse Council (in cooperation with the Maryland Farm Bureau) has actively pursued a “market hunting” bill that would allow (and establish a method for) the commercial sale of venison harvested under crop damage permits. Recreational Sunday hunting proponents and DNR oppose this, saying that it would be TOO effective in reducing the deer population, arguing that the deer population had declined in recent years and that the program would reduce numbers further. This position lays bare the internal incongruity in the logic of those who argue that Sunday hunting is needed because the deer population is too high. In any event, controls could be written into the plan to prevent the population from being too drastically reduced or eliminated, if that is a concern to some. Although there are some federal regulatory hurdles that would have to be overcome, we think this is a proposal that is worth pursuing.

All that being said, the Horse Council, in the interest of resolving this issue in a way that would be fair to all stakeholders, introduced a bill last session (SB 1061) that would allow hunting on all Sundays in the firearms season from one hour before sunrise until 10:30 am, leaving the afternoons for other users.The bill was late to come out of drafting and therefore did not make it out of Rules.  We are considering introducing it again this year, and we believe it will have support in the Legislature. 

We believe that legislation that will allow hunting deer with firearms on Sunday mornings is a reasonable compromise that will give hunters the Sunday access they desire, preserve opportunity for other users on Sundays, and still afford landowners the the ability to lease their land out to recreational hunters if they so choose. The Horse Council would support a Montgomery County delegation bill that reflects this compromise position.

Respectfully submitted, 

Jane Seigler

President

Maryland Horse Council

 

Here is the text of the Howard County bill, which bowhunting for deer on Sundays.

Here is our testimony:

Testimony of the Maryland Horse Council on Bill Ho. Co.  23-17

December 21, 2016

The Maryland Horse Council is a membership-based, umbrella trade association of the entire horse industry in Maryland. Our membership includes over 40 breed, interest and discipline associations, plus horse farms and stables, horse-related businesses, and horse owners representing all facets of the Maryland equestrian community, from the owners of race horses to the owners of trail horses or just beloved retired companion horses. The corporate owner of Pimlico, Laurel and Rosecroft racetracks is a member, as are vets, tack stores, and other farms and equine businesses in Howard County and throughout the state. As such, we represent over 30,000 Marylanders. Although we are a statewide organization, a great number of our members are Howard County residents.

The horse industry in Maryland in general and in Howard County in particular is a large, engaged and thriving constituency, and a strong economic engine, The results of an economic impact survey conducted by the Sage Policy Group, Inc. and released on November 21. 2016, reveal that horse industry spending statewide increased by 19% between 2010 and 2015 in real terms, and by 29% in nominal terms. In addition, the industry directly and indirectly supports almost 10,000 jobs associated with nearly half a billion dollars in wages and salaries, has about $1.15 billion in statewide economic impact, and contributes nearly $70 million dollars in state and local government revenue.

The issue of recreational Sunday hunting is certainly a fraught one. According to the public opinion survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the 2009 – 2018 White-Tailed Deer Plan, a majority of landowners and of the general public oppose Sunday hunting. This position is shared by most outdoor recreation groups other than the deer hunters themselves. 

The Horse Council has been studying and advocating on the issue of Sunday hunting throughout the state for over 14 years. It is important to make clear that the Horse Council is not opposed to hunting. Many of our members are hunters of deer, other game mammals and game birds. Many Horse Council members are also farmers, and are painfully aware of the enormous crop damage that deer inflict, as well as the problems of vehicle collisions and Lyme disease.

Through our years of studying DNR data, we are unconvinced that recreational hunting is the best solution for the very real problem of deer overpopulation. These data reveal that despite expansion of Sunday hunting in some other jurisdictions, deer harvest numbers are dropping. (And given the widely acknowledged “ghost doe” problem (i.e., some hunters phone in false reports of the number of does harvested, in order to become eligible to shoot a trophy buck), those numbers may actually be artificially inflated.) We have looked at DNR harvest numbers in Carroll and Frederick Counties - two counties that are fairly similar to Howard in climate, topography, demographics and development, and which have had a large number of Sunday hunting days added in recent years. In both cases, the harvest numbers declined substantially after Sundays were added.

It is sometimes argued that the declining numbers of recreational hunters is in part responsible for the declining harvest, but that begs the question of whether relying on recreational hunters is therefore “backing the wrong horse” in the effort to reduce the deer population. Adding Sundays demonstrably does not increase the harvest; it just affords recreational hunters the luxury of choosing which weekend day to devote to hunting, thereby spreading the same number of deer kills over seven days instead of six. So adding Sundays is arguably more a matter of hunter convenience than sound deer management. Convenience is surely a benefit, but it is a benefit that should be available to all constituents equitably, not just one segment. 

It is also sometimes argued that recreational hunters need Sundays because they have other things to do on Saturdays - a situation that plainly applies to most of Howard County’s users of outdoor resources, be they hunters, birdwatchers, dog walkers, mountain bikers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and trail riders. So why should one group get special consideration - especially since, as the numbers clearly show, Sunday hunting does not increase the harvest? Where is the balancing of the public good? In 2014, the Horse Council conducted a statewide survey on Sunday hunting. 68% of respondents ride on trails on public or private land one or more days a week. And, perhaps most significantly, 85% said they felt obliged to change their schedules or riding locations to avoid encountering hunters.

We of course recognize that private land owners have some right to decide what uses they want to allow on their land. But such rights have never been absolute, as any review of zoning and land use rules can plainly establish. And, as a practical matter the public/private land distinction affords little relief since in many places public and private tracts are often relatively small, non-contiguous, intertwined and rarely well-marked. In our survey, referenced above, 56% of respondents said they ride on trails that cross both public and private land.

The Horse Council wants to see actions that will be truly effective in, not just give lip service to,  solving the deer overpopulation problem. Here are just a few ideas for consideration, especially when considered in light of the goal of actually, effectively, reducing the deer population.

1) Studies show that the most effective means of reducing the herd is NOT recreational hunting, but managed hunts (sharp shooters).

2) Crop damage permits are not being fully utilized, and more needs to be done to increase their use. According to DNR data, only about 25% of the deer tags issued under crop damage permits are actually being used.

3) The Horse Council (in cooperation with the Maryland Farm Bureau) has actively pursued a “market hunting” bill that would allow (and establish a method for) the commercial sale of venison harvested under crop damage permits. Recreational Sunday hunting proponents and DNR oppose this, saying that it would be TOO effective in reducing the deer population, arguing that the deer population had declined in recent years and that the program would reduce numbers further. This position lays bare the internal incongruity in the logic of those who argue that Sunday hunting is needed because the deer population is too high. In any event, controls could be written into the plan to prevent the population from being too drastically reduced or eliminated, if that is a concern to some. Although there are some federal regulatory hurdles that would have to be overcome, we think this is a proposal that is worth pursuing.

The overpopulation of deer is a problem. Expanded Sunday hunting is not an effective solution.

Respectfully submitted, 

Jane Seigler

President

Maryland Horse Council

 

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