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March 20, 2018

MHC testimony on statewide Sunday hunting bills

House testimony (HB 1338):

Testimony of the Maryland Horse Council on HB 1338 - OPPOSE
March 7, 2018

Summary -
For almost 20 years, the Maryland Horse Council has worked to ensure fair use of shared natural resources during deer hunting season, by seeking to preserve Sundays as the one day of the week when hikers, birdwatchers, dog walkers, trail riders and other outdoor enthusiasts could enjoy the outdoors without concern for adverse interactions with hunters. Initially, we helped defeat a number of statewide Sunday hunting bills, and since then we have opposed numerous county-by-county bills. Two years ago, we proposed a reasonable compromise that would cut off Sunday deer hunting, where allowed, at 10:30am. This compromise has been embraced by some legislators, who have praised the Horse Council for this reasonable approach, and it has now been adopted by Montgomery and Kent Counties. Now, once again, we are facing a statewide bill that would allow all day Sunday hunting on virtually every Sunday in all deer seasons: firearm, muzzleloader and bow. This would open up 19 Sundays to all day Sunday hunting (according to the current season calendar), where many counties currently have none to just a few. That is almost every Sunday for five calendar months.

The horse industry in Maryland is a large, engaged and thriving constituency, and a strong economic engine: 28,000 direct equine related jobs; 16,000 properties occupying over 587,000 acres (10% of Maryland’s total land, and 25% of all agricultural land) The industry represents $1.6 billion in annual economic impact, generating $78 million in annual tax revenue.
Some, including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), have recently begun to conclude that the deer population in Maryland has stabilized, and additional deer reduction measures are not needed and even contraindicated. DNR’s recently released draft 2018-2020 hunting seasons propose reducing the bag limits (i.e., the number of deer allowed to be taken), implicitly acknowledging that reducing the deer population is not a priority.
Others believe that deer over population is a serious health, public safety and economic problem in Maryland. Sunday hunting is demonstrably not an effective solution to that problem. For example, in all but one of the five Maryland counties that vastly expanded Sunday hunting, the deer harvest has fallen.
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 small segment. 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 changed their schedules or riding locations to avoid encountering hunters.
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. This bill directly contravenes that clear public opinion by authorizing DNR to allow all day deer hunting on virtually every Sunday September through January.
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.
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 throughout the state. As such, we represent over 30,000 Marylanders.

The horse industry in Maryland 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 28,000 direct equine related jobs. The industry comprises 16,000 properties occupying over 587,000 acres (10% of Maryland’s total land, and 25% of all agricultural land) and $1.6 billion in annual economic impact, representing $78 million in annual tax revenue.

POSITION
The Horse Council opposes HB 1338.

BACKGROUND
For almost 20 years, the Maryland Horse Council has worked to ensure fair use of shared natural resources during deer hunting season, by seeking to preserve Sundays as the one day of the week when hikers, birdwatchers, dog walkers, trail riders and other outdoor enthusiasts could enjoy the outdoors without concern for adverse interactions with hunters. Almost 20 years ago, we helped defeat a number of statewide Sunday hunting bills. Proponents of Sunday hunting then changed tactics, seeking to introduce Sunday hunting on a county-by-county basis, which we also opposed vigorously. Sometimes they were successful; sometimes not. When they were successful, they succeeded in making an already complicated situation more complicated, making it more difficult for others to plan their outings, and for Natural Resources Police to effectively crack down on poachers and irresponsible hunters, which has caused even more negative encounters between irresponsible hunters and other users. The Maryland Horse Council has proposed reasonable compromises that would still allow fair use of shared natural resources, by cutting off Sunday deer hunting, where allowed, at 10:30 am. This compromise still gives trail riders and others plenty of Sunday access to trails. This compromise has been embraced by some legislators, who have praised the Horse Council for this reasonable approach, and it has now been adopted by Montgomery and Kent Counties. Now, once again, we are facing a statewide bill that would allow all day Sunday hunting on virtually every Sunday in all deer seasons: firearm, muzzleloader and bow, which encompass five calendar months. This bill does nothing to improve the situation for Natural Resources Police and continues to infringe on the fair rights of other users of our shared natural resources in Maryland.
.
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. This bill directly contravenes that clear public opinion by authorizing DNR to allow all day deer hunting on virtually every Sunday September through January (19 Sundays in the immediate past seasons). This would be a tectonic shift for many counties. Currently, six counties have three or fewer Sundays, and three of those have no Sunday hunting at all (Baltimore, Howard and Prince Georges).

The Horse Council has been studying and advocating on Sunday hunting throughout the state for over almost two decades. 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 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 the five counties that have had a large number of Sunday hunting days added in recent years. In all but one of the counties, 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 small segment.

Contravening many arguments that Sunday hunting is needed to help control a burgeoning deer population is the fact that the size of the deer herd has been steadily declining from a peak of about 295,000 in 2002 to about 214,000 today Indeed, DNR’s recently released draft 2018-2020 hunting seasons proposes reducing the bag limits (i.e., the number of deer allowed to be taken), implicitly acknowledging that reducing the deer population is not a priority. DNR states there that this change is being proposed “in response to hunter request.”

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 Maryland’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?  The number of licensed hunters in Maryland, about 100,000, pales in comparison to the state’s overall population of about 6 million. Compare the number of hunters, for example, to the number of people who use Maryland’s park land for hiking and other forms of recreation. 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 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 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.

ADDITIONAL PROPOSALS
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.
 

CONCLUSION
We urge the Committee to give HB 1338 an unfavorable report.

Senate testimony (SB 817)

Testimony of the Maryland Horse Council on SB 817 - OPPOSE
March 13, 2018

Summary -
For almost 20 years, the Maryland Horse Council has worked to ensure fair use of shared natural resources during deer hunting season, by seeking to preserve Sundays as the one day of the week when hikers, birdwatchers, dog walkers, trail riders and other outdoor enthusiasts could enjoy the outdoors without concern for adverse interactions with hunters. Initially, we helped defeat a number of statewide Sunday hunting bills, and since then we have opposed numerous county-by-county bills. Two years ago, we proposed a reasonable compromise that would cut off Sunday deer hunting, where allowed, at 10:30am. This compromise has now been adopted by Montgomery and Kent Counties and is working well. Now, once again, we are facing a statewide bill that would allow all day Sunday hunting on virtually every Sunday in all deer seasons: firearm, muzzleloader and bow. This would open up 19 Sundays to all day Sunday hunting (according to the current season calendar), where many counties currently have none to just a few. That is almost every Sunday for five calendar months. In addition, SB 817 would grant extraordinary and unprecedented power to The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to allow blanket Sunday hunting of all species in all seasons on both public and private land, thereby stripping direct control from the legislature. The Horse Council opposes SB 817.

The horse industry in Maryland is a large, engaged and thriving constituency, and a strong economic engine: 28,000 direct equine related jobs; 16,000 properties occupying over 587,000 acres (10% of Maryland’s total land, and 25% of all agricultural land) The industry represents $1.6 billion in annual economic impact, generating $78 million in annual tax revenue.
Some, including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), have recently begun to conclude that the deer population in Maryland has stabilized, and additional deer reduction measures are not needed and even contraindicated. DNR’s recently released draft 2018-2020 hunting seasons propose reducing the bag limits (i.e., the number of deer allowed to be taken), implicitly acknowledging that reducing the deer population is not a priority.
Others believe that deer over population is a serious health, public safety and economic problem in Maryland. Sunday hunting is demonstrably not an effective solution to that problem. For example, in all but one of the five Maryland counties that vastly expanded Sunday hunting, the deer harvest has fallen.
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 small segment. 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 changed their schedules or riding locations to avoid encountering hunters.
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. This bill directly contravenes that clear public opinion by giving DNR blanket authority to allow any Sunday hunting, and specifically by authorizing DNR to allow all day deer hunting on virtually every Sunday September through January.
If continued reduction of the deer population is desired, 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.

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 throughout the state. As such, we represent over 30,000 Marylanders.

The horse industry in Maryland 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 28,000 equine related jobs. The industry comprises 16,000 properties occupying over 587,000 acres (10% of Maryland’s total land, and 25% of all agricultural land) and $1.6 billion in annual economic impact, representing $78 million in annual tax revenue.

POSITION
The Horse Council opposes SB 817.

BACKGROUND
For almost 20 years, the Maryland Horse Council has worked to ensure fair use of shared natural resources during deer hunting season, by seeking to preserve Sundays as the one day of the week when hikers, birdwatchers, dog walkers, trail riders and other outdoor enthusiasts could enjoy the outdoors without concern for adverse interactions with hunters. Almost 20 years ago, we helped defeat a number of statewide Sunday hunting bills. Proponents of Sunday hunting then changed tactics, seeking to introduce Sunday hunting on a county-by-county basis, which we also opposed vigorously. Sometimes they were successful; sometimes not. When they were successful, they succeeded in making an already complicated situation more complicated, making it more difficult for others to plan their outings, and for Natural Resources Police to effectively crack down on poachers and irresponsible hunters, which has caused even more negative encounters between irresponsible hunters and other users. The Maryland Horse Council has proposed reasonable compromises that would still allow fair use of shared natural resources, by cutting off Sunday deer hunting, where allowed, at 10:30 am. This compromise still gives trail riders and others plenty of Sunday access to trails. This compromise has been embraced by some legislators, who have praised the Horse Council for this reasonable approach, and it has now been adopted by Montgomery and Kent Counties. Now, once again, we are facing a statewide bill that would allow all day Sunday hunting on virtually every Sunday in all deer seasons: firearm, muzzleloader and bow, which encompass five calendar months. This bill does nothing to improve the situation for Natural Resources Police and continues to infringe on the fair rights of other users of our shared natural resources in Maryland. In addition, SB 817 would grant extraordinary and unprecedented power to The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to allow blanket Sunday hunting of all species in all seasons.
.
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. This bill directly contravenes that clear public opinion by authorizing DNR to allow all day deer hunting on virtually every Sunday September through January (19 Sundays in the immediate past seasons). This would be a tectonic shift for many counties. Currently, six counties have three or fewer Sundays, and three of those have no Sunday hunting at all (Baltimore, Howard and Prince Georges).

The Horse Council has been studying and advocating on Sunday hunting throughout the state for over almost two decades. 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 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 the five counties that have had a large number of Sunday hunting days added in recent years. In all but one of the counties, 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 small segment.

Contravening many arguments that Sunday hunting is needed to help control a burgeoning deer population is the fact that the size of the deer herd has been steadily declining from a peak of about 295,000 in 2002 to about 214,000 today Indeed, DNR’s recently released draft 2018-2020 hunting seasons proposes reducing the bag limits (i.e., the number of deer allowed to be taken), implicitly acknowledging that reducing the deer population is not a priority. DNR states there that this change is being proposed “in response to hunter request.”

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 Maryland’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?  The number of licensed hunters in Maryland, fewer than 100,000, pales in comparison to the state’s overall population of about 6 million. Compare the number of hunters, for example, to the number of people who use Maryland’s park land for hiking and other forms of recreation. 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 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 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.

ADDITIONAL PROPOSALS
To the extent that there is still interest in reducing the deer population, here are a few ideas for consideration.

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 have argued 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.
 

CONCLUSION
We urge the Committee to give SB 817 an unfavorable report.

 

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