ANNAPOLIS — A bill proposed by Del. Dana Stein and co-sponsored by Del. Karen Lewis Young would ban organized hunting competitions statewide.
The proposal, House Bill 863, is an attempt to protect “fur-bearing animals” or “unprotected mammals” from being hunted and killed for money or prizes. The Humane Society of the United States recently reported one of these contests was held at the Linganore Grange #410 in Unionville, in eastern Frederick County, earlier this year.
About 250 red foxes, coyotes and raccoons were killed at an event held by the Predator Hunters of Maryland in January, according to the report by the Humane Society. Representatives of the Linganore Grange said they hosted the event but were not involved in organizing it. The Predator Hunters of Maryland did not respond to two requests for comment.
Organized hunting contests are legal in Maryland, and many who opposed the bill at its hearing before the House of Delegates’ Environment and Transportation Committee earlier this week said these events help with population control. They also said the money at these contests help pay for the equipment needed to keep these animals off farms in rural areas.
Many organizations, however — including the National Coalition to End Wildlife Killing Contests — argue the contests harm ecosystems and are not good for wildlife conservation.
“While managing to reduce the loss of livestock is a common goal for all stakeholders, wildlife killing contests do not contribute to this goal and may work against it,” according to a letter from the coalition, signed by more than 70 conservation scientists around the globe.
Stein (D-Baltimore County) said he understands his proposal is a contentious one, drawing strong opinions from both those who support and oppose it. He added, however, one thing that struck him was seeing photos of stacks of dead foxes and other animals.
“To me, it questions the reason for the hunt, it’s cruel and inhumane,” he said. “It’s one thing if deer are being hunted and they’re donated to say, the Maryland Food Bank. But here … be it foxes, raccoons, whatever, typically fur-bearing animals ... it just seems like they’re slaughtered for a contest with the idea of hunting for wildlife management.”
If Stein’s proposal becomes law, the penalty for holding the contests would be a misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $1,500, which is the current Department of Natural Resources fine for a violation. Five other states currently have a similar law in place.
Gregg Bortz, a DNR spokesman, declined to comment on the pending legislation. But he did say that, while the department doesn’t keep track of the population count of fur bearing animals countywide, “trends suggest the populations have remained consistent, with a possible slight increase.”
There also has been an increase in wildlife nuisance hotline calls reported to the USDA Wildlife Office, Bortz said. In 2010, 30 calls were reported, according to data from USDA. By 2018, 111 calls were reported.
Lewis Young (D-Frederick) said she co-sponsored Stein’s legislation because of the nature of the events, and that it would not affect lawful hunting practices statewide.
“No animal deserves to be killed for ‘entertainment’ or small cash incentives,” Lewis Young wrote in an email. “At the core of these events, there is no purpose other than prizes and bragging rights.”
The Humane Society said in a press release that many animals are taken to a landfill or dump after the contests. Phil Harris, the county’s head of the Department of Solid Waste Management, said they don’t track that data, but added there have been “no visible increases” in wildlife carcasses coming into the landfill in recent weeks.
Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) said he hasn’t read the bill, but the competitions, for coyotes especially, are needed, especially given that they hunt in packs. He said he’s shot a coyote in Wyoming before, and has seen the damage they can cause.
“Coyotes are actually real dangerous, because they’ll take down calves or weak animals,” Hough said. “... They’re a real pest and a real problem.”
Stein said he is willing to amend his proposal, including allowing those who own dogs to be able to hunt those animals to keep them in shape. He understands it might have a tough time passing out of committee and in the House.
“It’s one of those issues that generates strong feelings on both sides,” he said. “Look, I’m a proponent of the bill but I can respect the feelings of the other side.”
Staff writer Hannah Himes contributed to this report.