The Kent County Commissioners notified Del. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent, on Tuesday that they are withdrawing support of a hunting bill that would add 10 Sundays to the current deer hunting season. The commissioners withdrew their support after an outpouring of opposition from horse riding enthusiasts, farmers, and wildlife watchers who use those hunting free Sundays in the fall to plan activities.
Jacobs told the Spy on Tuesday that he would withdraw the bill upon receipt of a letter.
The Commissioners withdrew their support by a vote of 2-1, with Commissioner William Short still in favor of the bill.
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Many outdoor enthusiasts in Kent have voiced strong objections to adding ten hunting Sundays during the hunting season — which could adversely mix hunting with horse riding and other outdoor activities — possibly leading to injuries or even fatalities.
“Hunters in Kent County currently have a 126 days of nonstop deer hunting, including three additional Sundays that were granted by executive order…,” said local veterinarian Dr. Judy Tubman of Millington. “And now they want eight more Sundays.”
A bill sponsored by Senator E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, is now in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Under the bill, only two Sundays of the 13-week hunting season would be free of the risk of hunting accidents, according to Tubman.
She said the measure would even allow hunting on the Sunday of Thanksgiving.
“I would love to walk my dogs on my 30 acres that Sunday and have a nice relaxing day—and not have to worry about dodging frickin’ bullets, ” Tubman said.
The bill restricts hunting on those Sundays to private property–with little comfort to opponents.
“Bullets don’t recognize property lines,” Tubman said.
Tubman said she has written Pipkin noting that “two percent of the population would hold the other 98 percent captive and unable to use their farms on those Sundays” if the measure passes.
“I have 15 properties adjoining mine, and when any of them are hunting, I do not ride my horses or walk my dogs, because it will scare the horses, and I or my dogs could get shot at,” Tubman said. “When you have properties adjoining yours, it makes a big difference when people are hunting.”
Of the eight hunting accidents in 2009, seven occurred while deer hunting, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Some of the arguments for the additional Sundays are to better control the deer population, avoid further damage to crops, and bolster economic development in the county.
But an analysis by the Department of Legislation Services estimates only an additional 125 to 200 deer could be harvested if the eight Sundays are approved.
“There are positively no hardcore statistics that say it’s going to decrease the deer population by a huge amount or decrease crop damage,” Tubman said.
The revenue argument has been flatly rejected by opponents. They say the additional revenue pales in comparison to the revenue generated in the state by other outdoor activities, such as wildlife watching, biking, and hiking.
The legislative report also said there would be no measureable economic benefit.
While hunting activities in the state generate about $127 million annually, equestrian and wildlife watching account for $1.26 billion annually, according to census data and data from the 2010 Maryland Equine Census.
A group of Kent residents went to Annapolis to voice strong opposition to the bill at a hearing of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Jan. 23, but Pipkin was not in attendance.
Other Senators sympathetic to opponents of the measure said the best course of action would be to have the Kent County Commissioners make a request of Pipkin to withdraw the bill.
The bill was initiated by Kent County Commissioner Bill Short to further economic development in the county.
There is currently nothing on the issue in the Commissioner’s Agenda for Tuesday, Jan. 29, but opponents are expected to show up and speak during the comment period, Tubman said.