By Rebecca Lessner
Orange neon colored hats livened up the windy courtyard of Lawyers Mall Thursday morning, as hunters wearing camouflage greeted legislators walking into the General Assembly session. They were passing out baseball-caps inscribed with the words “Blaze & Camo Day” to senators and delegates who stopped by.
“Wearing your blaze” is a hunting term for wearing neon-orange vests or hats.
“It did my heart good to see the camo and orange hats walking up this boulevard when I came in this morning,” said Del. Anthony O’Donnell, going on to thank the hunting community for sticking “hundreds of millions of dollars into Maryland’s economy every year.”
Del. Jay Jacobs, who is co-sponsoring House Bill 170, a bill that would alter Maryland law on the baiting of waterfowl to have stricter liability outlines, said he has been an avid hunter all his life.
“I certainly support the efforts of the hunters in Maryland, which I think is the best form of conservation,” Jacobs said.
Maryland law is more stringent than federal law on the baiting of waterfowl, a practice where grain, salt or other feed is placed in an area to attract waterfowl. Under Maryland law, hunters can be charged by the Department of Natural Resources for hunting on property where bait is present, even if they were not aware of its existence.
Del. Wendell Beitzel of Garrett County, vice chair of the Legislative Sportsman’s Caucus and executive board member of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses said, “What we’re trying to do is say there has to be reasonable expectation that you knew the bait was there, and that’s what the bill does.”
“We are totally against it, it’s totally inappropriate to bait waterfowl,” said Alan Ellis, executive director of the Maryland Hunting Coalition. “The issue is a little complex, but it has to do with the intent of the hunter. Whether he knows there’s bait or not he can be charged, it doesn’t matter if the bait is a mile away.”
Jacobs called this bill the group’s “premier piece,” going on to say there will be other bills this session, including a fight against bills that would restrict sportsmen from hunting on Sundays.
“Currently hunting on Sundays is an issue that has been going piece by piece for many of the counties,” said Beitzel. “The real issue is there have been many people opposed to Sunday hunting, with people trying to take it away from counties that already have it, and we are trying to oppose those efforts.”
Beitzel believes that the hunting community in Maryland deserves a say in Marylands’ wildlife decisions.
“Hunters, through buying hunting licenses, are the ones who really are protecting the animals and protecting wildlife. We are the voice of wildlife.” Beitzel said, going on to remark on how those opposed to hunting on Sundays have access to the woods twelve months out of the year, where hunting season takes up five months.
Deep Creek Lake’s economy, where Beitzel grew up, depends on tourism generated by hunters, as well as fishermen.