New coalition's clout growing

March 01, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

Steve Palmer of Keedysville describes how he was summoned to House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s Annapolis office in December to talk about reforming Maryland's hunting regulations.

Palmer and his newly formed group, the Maryland Coalition for Responsible Wildlife Management, had proposed an independent commission to oversee hunting and inland fishing.

The next thing Palmer knew, Taylor had agreed to make it part of the House leadership package.

Palmer didn't know it at the time, but he soon realized that being included in the leadership package gives his legislation a considerable advantage in the General Assembly.

"It kind of gives you goosebumps," he said.

The coalition also found a high-powered sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Eastern Shore, who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee.


Palmer, 53, began building the coalition a year ago when he and other sportsmen became fed up with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which they said they feel has failed to responsibly manage the state's wildlife.

He organized a postcard mailing campaign that prompted 10,000 people to contact their local lawmakers.

The coalition, made up of about 35 groups with a combined 20,000 members, was formed last May and now members are taking the fight to Annapolis.

Last summer, they invited lawmakers on a clay shooting picnic. Now that the legislative session has begun, Palmer and other coalition members regularly visit the General Assembly to talk with lawmakers from across the state.

"We've recognized this is where the power is," Palmer said. "We are going to become the political force in Maryland," Palmer said.

In the past, sportsmens' groups have failed to take advantage of having lawmakers like Taylor on their side, he said.

"It's like having a chainsaw in your garage and going out and cutting firewood with an ax," he said.

Palmer, who was a co-founder of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association, said the coalition split from that group, which chose to remain less political.

"I really don't want to get involved in bashing other groups. We all have the same goals. We're all fighting for the same cause," said Tim Lambert, president of the Maryland Sportsmen's Association.

The association, which is made up of 25 groups and organizations along with 500 individual members, has not taken a position on the wildlife bill, Lambert said.

A hearing on the bill has been set for March 8 in the House Environmental Matters Committee. Palmer is organizing a bus trip from Hagerstown for people to testify.

Even people who live in urban areas should be worried about responsible wildlife management because overpopulation of deer causes havoc on the highways and can help spread Lyme disease, Palmer said.

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