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Anglers, hunters call bill a sign of progress

March 18, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

Despite losing a key initiative this legislative session, a Maryland coalition of hunters and anglers isn't upset.

They saw the bill - which would have created an independent wildlife commission to oversee hunting and fishing - as a good first step.

"We were satisfied to have a bill. Having the bill brought a lot of people to the table," said Steve Palmer of Keedysville, president of the Coalition for Responsible Wildlife Management.

Members of the House Environmental Matters Committee have agreed to study the issue this summer, when they will be distracted by the November election.

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"It's not going to get the attention it would get in an off year," said Del. George W. Owings III, who chairs the Environmental Matters Committee's environmental and natural resources subcommittee.

Owings, D-Calvert/Anne Arundel, said there wasn't enough time left in the session to deal with the complexities of the bill.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, filed the bill on behalf of the House leadership and said he plans to follow through.

"I think that's the right way to go, and I'm hoping we'll get there," Taylor said.

Taylor blamed the bill's defeat on what he considers to be extremists who oppose hunting and fishing.

Those sports should be regulated by people who can be objective about the issue, he said.

"We need to find the mainstream of responsible people who don't abuse wildlife on either side," he said.

The model has worked well in other states, including Pennsylvania, he said.

Palmer brought the idea to Taylor because sportsmen have become frustrated with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The department hasn't done a good job managing wildlife. Frequent turnover in the agency's leadership and a lack of funding has contributed to the problems, he said.

While the department says it's getting itself back on track, Palmer said it's time for a structural change.

He's backing the idea of an independent commission even though he knows he may disagree with some of its decisions.

Animal overpopulation is cited in an increase in motor vehicle accidents involving deer and in the spread of rabies and Lyme disease.

"If they don't control it, people are going to die or it's going to cost taxpayers a pile of money to fix it," he said.

Palmer will continue building the coalition and hopes to have 10,000 members by the end of the year.

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