On four evenings this week, the Department of Natural Resources will hold public meetings on proposed dates and bag limits for the 1993-1994 hunting seasons. The items that surely will draw the most comment are the resumption of the two-week modern firearms season for deer and the curtailment of the Canada goose season.
In both cases there are pros and cons of the proposals. In both cases there are extenuating circumstances. And in both cases there are no easy decisions.
Take the two-week deer season.
About 50 people showed up at Annapolis High two days ago for a public forum sponsored by the Conservation Federation of Maryland. The advertised issue was the two-week firearms season for deer. The advertised panel was to be composed of bow, firearms and muzzleloader hunters and a representative of the DNR.
The hunters' representatives showed up, but DNR declined to participate, saying that this week's public meetings would offer a better opportunity to discuss the main issue.
The CFM program did little except to show that deer hunters are perhaps more divided by their leadership than by their personal interests.
In a nutshell, the spokesman for the bow hunters said that their season, which runs from mid-September to the end of January, has been disrupted by the two-week firearms season and is further threatened by the possibility of the muzzleloader hunters getting a short, early season.
The spokesman for the muzzleloaders said that they deserve a better shake from DNR. Black-powder season traditionally runs the last two weeks of December.
The spokesman for the modern firearms hunter said that, well, things look pretty good from his standpoint -- unless the hunting pressure on bucks becomes too great in Western Maryland.
The upshot of all this is that there are some 180,000 deer hunting licenses sold in Maryland each year, but only 120,000 hunters. About 60,000 licenses are sold to deer hunters who hunt with more than one weapon.
That means that roughly half the deer hunters in Maryland may feel strongly two or three ways.
What DNR wants is to regulate the deer population with an increased deer kill. The catch is that the fastest growth rate in the deer population is in areas that have been hard to hunt -- outer suburban areas where landowners don't allow access and areas of state parks such as Gunpowder that wind among moderately populated residential areas.
DNR has plans for special hunts in some of these areas and wants to develop a master hunter certification program to help allay the safety and ethical concerns of some landowners.
With the proper development by DNR and the participation of hunters, enough new hunting areas could become available to meet the needs of all three groups of hunters.
If you have an opinion on the deer seasons, show up and make your point.
It is certain that the meetings on the Eastern Shore will not be short on opinions. In Easton, for example, DNR has moved its Thursday night meeting from the Talbot County Free Library to ** Easton High School, because it's expecting a crowd.
The reason is Canada geese.
DNR proposes to cut the goose season from 52 hunting days to as few as 18, with a daily bag limit of one bird. At this point, the best hunters can hope for is 28 days at one bird per day.
The reason for the curtailment is the poor hatches in Northern Quebec the past few years and the resulting high harvest of breeding-age birds in Maryland.
At one bird per day, neither 18 nor 28 days will make it worthwhile for a guide to lease lands, refurbish blinds or dewinterize outboard motors or boats.
Without goose hunting to draw people from other areas of the state or from outside the state, the economy of the Eastern Shore takes a big plunge. A half-dozen guides and outfitters over the past week have said they won't bother to set up for a season of 18 or 28 days.
And they wonder whether the aim of DNR isn't simply to put them out of business.
DNR says that its aim is to restore the population of Canada geese -- no matter the cost to recreational hunters or the goose industry.
The purpose of public meetings is to allow DNR -- which, in theory, works for the people of Maryland, with the money allotted by the people of Maryland, toward the end that best suits the people of Maryland -- to gauge what we most want and how they might achieve it.
If you have a point of view on the deer or goose seasons -- or on any of the proposals, for that matter -- show up and speak your mind or second a speaker who already has stated your point of view.
Proposed deer and goose seasons
Deer, bow: Sept. 15-Nov. 26, Dec. 13-Dec. 17, Jan. 3-Jan. 31. Combined total season limit, 4.
Deer, modern firearms: Nov. 27-Dec. 11, with restrictions on antlered or antlerless deer in certain areas. Combined total season limit, 5.
Deer, muzzleloader: Dec. 18-Jan. 1. Combined total season limit, 3.
Canada geese: Minimum dates would be Nov. 22-26 and Dec. 18-Jan. 1, although the season could be as long as 28 days instead of 18. Bag limit would be one bird per day.
DNR has scheduled four public meetings this week to discuss proposed hunting seasons and bag limits for 1993-1994.
Tomorrow: South Hagerstown High School, 1101 South Potomac Hagerstown, 7 p.m.
Tuesday: North Carroll High School, 3801 Hampstead-Mexico Road, Hampstead, 7 p.m.
Thursday: Easton High School (changed from Talbot County Free Library), Easton, 7 p.m.
Friday: Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Building, Route 231, Hughesville, 7 p.m.