If a bill now before the Maryland Senate becomes law, hunters may find themselves spending more time fending off harassment than stalkinggame.
Sen. Idamae Garrott, D-Montgomery, is sponsor of Senate Bill 51, a proposal that would nullify the authority of the Department of Natural Resources police and other law enforcement officers to protect hunters from harassment.
Section 10-422 of the Annotated Code of Maryland defines the DNR's responsibility to prevent intentional interference with hunters who are hunting legally, whether on DNR-managed preserves or on private property.
Repeal of this protection would permit animal rights groups or others opposed to hunting to enter these areas and attempt to prevent hunters from pursuing game, either by direct harassmentor by frightening away the animals.
On the first day of the 1990 bow season, animal rights groups interfered with hunters in the McKee-Besher's Wildlife Management Area of Montgomery County.
They also staged demonstrations in the same area on the first day of firearm season.
Hap Baker of the Carroll County Sportsmen's Association, who has played an active role in legislation concerning hunting rights, says many of the protesters at McKee-Besher's were not from Maryland.
"In the parking lot, we saw license plates from New Jersey and other areas," he observes. "The local group has its headquarters in Silver Spring and is actually quite small. It seems to be predominantly the same 12 or so people who turn up all over the place."
On Nov. 24, Wayne Pacelle, leader of the Fund For Animals, was arrested.
Heidi Prescott, also a member of the Fund For Animals, recently
was released from jail for previous interference.
Baker says the presence of Ingrid Newkirk, a prominent animal rights activist from England, at a rally in D.C. may have motivated the MontgomeryCounty protests.
He also says the public should be aware that animal rights groups are not composed entirely of benign animal lovers.
"The current Maryland statute that guarantees hunters protection from interference is constitutionally sound," Baker says.
"It issimilar to hunter protection laws in 37 other states. In Connecticut, the law as originally written, was successfully challenged, but wasrewritten to meet constitutional requirements."
At least three members of Carroll's General Assembly delegation in Annapolis, which traditionally has been supportive of outdoors interests, say they'll oppose the new bill.
"I'm not going to support (Garrott's) bill," says Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll. "Everyone has the right to assemble and protest peacefully, but this is an infringement with a hunter's right to hunt."
Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Frederick, agrees with Haines.
"I disagree with the bill," Elliott says.
Hunters pay for licenses and special stamps and "deserve to be thereand they should not be harassed."
Elliott says he is bewildered by the justification of bills such as the one filed by Garrott.
"I just don't understand where these people are coming from," Elliott says.
Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, says he isopposed to the hunter harassment bill as well.
"I know there are some problems out there in areas that are now built up," says Smelser. "But we are asking the Department of Natural Resources to look intothose areas.
"As for the bill, I don't think people should be outin the field harassing those who are out hunting."
Individual members of the Carroll County Sportsmen's Association have expressed considerable concern about the Garrott bill.
Torrey Brown, state secretary of Natural Resources, will be present at their meeting Monday and this issue is one on which many questions will be raised.