Cumberland Times-News

Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors

June 28, 2014

Wildlife official protests more Sunday hunts in far W. Md.

— Joseph Michael believes that the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service put its regulations cart ahead of its regulations horse, at least when it comes to allowing more hunting on Sundays in the state’s three westernmost counties.

Michael’s perception is important because he is a member of the agency’s Wildlife Advisory Commission, a citizen group appointed by the governor.

The regulation that concerns Michael, who is a mounted fox hunter — meaning he rides horses to chase/hunt foxes — is the one that will allow hunters in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties to hunt everything but migratory birds on every Sunday during the season for each particular species.

We’re talking critters such as grouse, turkey, squirrel and rabbits. We’re talking deer.

It is the deer part that mostly concerns Michael, who lives in Washington County and owns land there.

But before we talk about deer, let’s talk some more about the regulation. This regulation did not come about by way of the bi-annual process conducted by the WHS. This regulation was proposed via legislation in the General Assembly’s Senate by Sen. George Edwards and in the House by Delegate Wendell Beitzel. The bill passed and Gov. Martin O’Malley signed it into law in mid-May.

Working feverishly with this new information because the new hunting regulation booklet had to be in print before the new license year that begins this summer, the wildlife agency included the new Sunday hunts. The effective date of the law is July 1.

Enter something called the Maryland Register. Hunting regulations do not become official until published in that document and another public comment period unfolds.

Checks and balances are good. I believe in them. I’m a Libra, for crying out loud.

On June 13, the Maryland Register opened a 30-day public comment period about hunting regulations such as season dates and bag limits.

However, the new Sunday hunting regulations have not yet appeared there, but they will soon, according to Pete Jayne, an associate director of WHS.

Jayne said the reason the new Sunday hunting regs have to go through the Maryland Register process is because the law states that WHS “may establish” certain Sunday hunting regulations.

“If the legislation had said there would be Sunday hunting on certain dates, then publication in the Maryland Register wouldn’t be necessary,” Jayne told me.

Jayne said he anticipates that Michael will generate public comment from those who oppose the new regs.

 I encourage hunters who want to hunt on Sundays out here in Almost Maryland to once again make their voices heard.

Send your comments to: Peter Jayne, Associate Director, Wildlife and Heritage Service, Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 68, Wye Mills, MD 21679, or call 410-827-8612, or email to pjayne@dnr.state.md.us, or fax to 410-827-5186.

Michael contends that the Sunday hunting bill is what is called enabling legislation. That means that the WHS has been enabled to propose Sunday hunting during a future regulation cycle. The next one takes place in the spring of 2016.

The fact that the regulations (the cart) are already in the Maryland Guide to Hunting & Trapping 2014/2015, puts them ahead of the Maryland Register public comment period (the horse), according to Michael.

Michael said he is not so much concerned by small game hunting on Sundays, but sees deer hunting and mounted hunters chasing foxes as being incompatible.

“Sundays have traditionally been the days for fox hunting so that it doesn’t interfere with other hunting,” he said. “It’s not a safety issue, it is an issue of disruption, one type of hunting disrupting another type and it goes both ways.”

Michael, who goes on mounted hunts in a group of 21 in Washington County, said he is fine with the Sunday hunting that already existed, that being some Sunday hunts for archers during the deer rut and the first Sunday during firearms season.

The new regulation allows Sunday hunting on private lands, but also on state wildlife management areas. State forests are not included. Michael said his group has not hunted on wildlife management areas and has no plans to do so. He said, also, that he is not aware of any organized horseback hunting that takes place in either Allegany or Garrett counties.

Michael said he will supply his personal comments during the Maryland Register’s window for doing so and will make others aware of the opportunity.

“Not just the equestrian community, but the Western Maryland sportsmen’s groups as well,” he said.

The rush to print regulations promulgated through the General Assembly is nothing new. In fact, all of the Sunday hunting that already existed came about in the same way; hurried into the reg booklet in time for the next season.

So ... what is happening here is not cutting edge stuff.

In any event, the first Sunday for hunting in far Western Maryland will be Sept. 7, the day after squirrel season opens and two days after bow season gets going.

Jayne said it is the intent of the agency that people wanting to hunt squirrels or deer on that day be able to do so.

The agency actually has the option to seek an emergency regulation to make that happen should the normal process get bogged down.

A couple months or so ago, I reported that Jayne told me that during the time he has been employed by the Wildlife & Heritage Service, there has never been a public comment received about hunting regulations during the Maryland Register’s window of opportunity.

I’m guessing that has already changed.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors
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