Bird lovers squawk over Sunday hunting

Arguing their safe access to public lands is threatened, birders are making a last-ditch appeal to Gov. Martin O'Malley to veto legislation that would expand hunting on Sundays in western Maryland.

The Maryland Ornithological Society joined horse lovers in opposing two bills that would authorize hunting deer and other game on private and public lands in Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties. The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed both measures, sponsored by western Maryland lawmakers, on the final day of the legislative session April 7.

The Maryland Horse Council, representing horseback riders, had testified against the bills during the 90-day legislative session. But Kurt Schwarz, the ornithological society's conservtion chair, said birders were "blind-sided" by their passage, after successfully opposing a similar bill for Anne Arundel County. Another measure that would have expanded Sunday hunting statewide also failed.

Sunday hunting has generally been prohibited in Maryland, though numerous exceptions have been made for hunting deer or turkey, often on private land only, in some counties or on specific dates.

The Department of Natural Resources has said expanding Sunday hunting could help in seeking to curb the population of white-tailed deer, which have caused widespread damage to tree seedlings and shrubbery.  DNR estimates another 250 to 300 deer could be killed annually in Allegany and Garrett, 500 to 600 more in Washington County and up to 750 in Frederick.

While agreeing that the deer population needs to be controlled, Schwarz said "the rest of the outdoor public, such as bird watchers, hikers, horseback riders, runners, etc., deserve one day a week to enjoy the outdoors, without the noise and potential risks associated with hunting."

O'Malley is scheduled to sign legislation Monday; neither bill is on the list posted by the governor's office for his signature that day.  He also plans to sign more bills May 5 and 15.

Nina Smith, the governor's press secretary, said O'Malley "closely reviews" all bills passed by the General Assembly and "takes into account the concerns of all parties, both for and against, when making a decision to sign.

"He will do no less in this instance," she added.