by Sarah Speed
Seven Springs, Pa., is a borough of about 127 people in the rural southwest corner of the Commonwealth, surrounded by state game lands, and home of the Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
This remote mountain setting was recently invaded by members of the Pennsylvania House Game and Fisheries Committee for a hearing on legislation aimed at shattering the rural quiet of small towns by opening Sundays to hunting.
House Bill 1760–sponsored by Committee Chairman John Evans (R-Crawford/Erie counties) and co-sponsored by Minority Chairman Edward Staback (D-Lackawanna/Wayne counties), mandates that the Pennsylvania Game Commission open and regulate additional hunting on Sundays. It is already legal to hunt some species like groundhogs and coyotes on Sunday, but this legislation would open Sundays to hunting of more popular species, like deer and turkey.
At the hearing, I was called testify. The Humane Society of the United States represents more than 650,000 members and supporters in Pennsylvania; as Pennsylvania State Director, my job is to speak on behalf of those who love and enjoy animals, both wild and domestic.
I presented prepared testimony highlighting the contribution to the Commonwealth’s coffers made by wildlife watchers and outdoor enthusiasts and the merits of maintaining the delicate balance struck by the current compromise between the vast majority of Pennsylvanians who do not hunt and the hunting community. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife watchers make up 37 percent of Pennsylvania’s population, while hunters represent only 11 percent. With hunting permitted six days a week for most of the year, outdoor enthusiasts deserve the freedom to have just one day per week to enjoy our natural resources in relative peace and quiet without fear for their safety.
Many outdoor enthusiasts reserve Sunday as their day to venture out into the woods. Hunters already enjoy recreational opportunities disproportionate with their numbers, and this legislation would create an even greater imbalance among outdoor users.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife watchers in Pennsylvania contribute more than $1.4 billion to the state’shttp://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/fhw06-pa.pdf economy annually. Tourist wildlife watchers exceed hunters in trip-related spending by more than $20 million annually. Robbed of their only day to enjoy the outdoors safely during hunting season, wildlife watchers and other outdoor recreationists like hikers, birders, mountain bikers, campers, horseback riders, photographers, dog walkers, and others may opt to stay at home, robbing the state of economic revenue from these popular activities.
At the close of my testimony, I offered to answer questions. Perhaps that was my mistake…
Rep. Staback, a staunch and vocal supporter of the expansion of Sunday hunting, led the assault. The minority chair denied the research, dismissed the controversy and questioned the motives of anyone who disagreed. The fact is, in the most recent study conducted by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, 82 percent of Pennsylvania landowners opposed an expansion of Sunday hunting. The same poll revealed that even the hunting community is divided on the issue, with half of self-identified hunters opposing the expansion of Sunday hunting.
One representative asked what I thought a family should do if, on a weekend hunting trip, it rained all day Saturday, but Sunday dawned fair as Eden. I offered to recommend some excellent family board games.
After nearly an hour, the questions dried up. I rose to return to my seat and was delighted that as I turned around I was greeted by applause.
No argument I could make was as effective as that. Those lawmakers who ventured here hoping for a rural show of support were plenty surprised. This audience of landowners, business leaders, farmers and local voters made itself heard.
The will of Pennsylvanians is clear. People here and elsewhere want Sundays to be left alone. Will our legislators bother to listen?
Sarah Speed is the Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the United States; she holds a B.A. from UCLA and a J.D. from the University of San Diego and is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., and California.
Photo by Tom Owad
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