There is a dangerous proposal being floated this year, one that is coming from multiple suburban counties across the state – the idea of legalizing the commercial exploitation of a publicly-owned resource, our wild deer population.
The Hunters of Maryland oppose this effort for the same reasons Maryland’s hunting community opposed a nearly identical effort in 2015. We cannot be silent while lawmakers sanction the exploitation of a publicly-owned resource – aka, Public Trust Doctrine – for personal financial gain, violating all ethics of conservation hunting.
It is important to understand how Maryland’s deer population is regulated, both from a recreational hunting perspective and a landowner, crop damage control perspective:
(1) Maryland’s recreational bag limits for deer are among the highest of our neighboring states;
(2) in several portions of the state the deer population is actually declining along with fewer deer being taken during the firearm season when almost half of the annual harvest occurs;
(3) landowners with deer management permits are authorized to harvest deer every day of the year, including Sundays with a wide array of weaponry; and
(4) in 2019 the Department of Natural Resources authorized the issuance of an Agriculture Deer Cooperator Permit whereby permitted individuals are authorized to harvest deer at night during January and February –despite an effort in 2018 to prohibit night-time deer harvesting.
Maryland also provides a tax credit that pays $50 towards the processing of any deer that are harvested in Maryland and donated to food banks. The Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry Program (FHFH) is supported by hunters across the state, and regularly facilitates the donation of deer towards this cause and has for decades.
Yet Maryland’s suburban counties, starting with Anne Arundel County last fall and now Montgomery County, et al, if approved this session, seem determined to ignore these existing tools and incentives by launching blindly into programs and proposals that would violate and undermine the Public Trust Doctrine.
Efforts such as HB490, which would create a pilot program for the commercial harvesting of deer in Montgomery County, and HB594, which would provide an additional bounty for the harvesting of deer on top of the existing tax credit for processing the carcass, are ill-considered proposals motivated by frustration over deer populations in these suburban areas.
It is troubling that HB594 has been introduced to clearly circumvent the attorney general’s position made last fall when he opined any act to commercialize the sale of venison – Anne Arundel County at the time — violated existing state law. Yet, no one stopped Anne Arundel County. Who ignores the attorney general?
Other tools to control deer
If the deer population in our suburban counties is deemed a threat to the health and safety of its citizenry, DNR has multiple tools at its disposal to thin the population thru existing permits. Legally sanctioning the commercialized sale of venison, is not the answer. More importantly, it violates the conservation-minded spirt of fair chase.
Its detrimental impact could lead to wholesale slaughter and black markets. The seriousness of the opposition to these proposals is underscored by the fact that the Hunters of Maryland are joined by the Humane Society of the United States and Maryland Votes for Animals in our steadfast opposition to these ideas.
We urge state lawmakers to vote down what has been ruled as illegal. Maryland should not have the dishonor of leading the country 100 years backwards in our wildlife conservation practices.