This year's public meetings on the Department of Natural Resources' proposed hunting and trapping regulations concluded last week.
I attended the meeting at Timber Grove Elementary School in Baltimore County, along with 25 other interested sportsmen. An earlier meeting in Cumberland drew 30. These numbers are a giveaway to this year's low-key proposals and are in sharp contrast to the donnybrooks of years past.
Credit DNR Wildlife Division Director Josh Sandt for helping eliminate the often explosive atmosphere between sportsmen and the DNR by changing the format from a cold, formal hearing to the informality of a public information meeting accenting exchanges of ideas.
Sandt told me that the legislature is close to passing the provisions for lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, similar to those already in place in a number of other states.
He also "doesn't see any hunting license-fee increases in the next few years. However, state trappers have asked for the creation of a trappers license to fund various education programs and we are moving forward on the request."
There is an emphasis on youth hunting activities in this year's proposed regulations. Most notably, the DNR is advocating Junior Hunting Days, Jakes Events for junior turkey hunters in cooperation with the Maryland Chapters of the Wild Turkey Federation, a free hunting license for first-time Junior Hunter Safety Program graduates, a youth-only deer hunt and a youth-only goose hunt during the resident Canada goose season.
Joe Shugars, Maryland's upland game project manager, said that "there's good news and bad news concerning the status of upland game here. The bad news is that all of the upland species [quail, pheasant, rabbit, etc.] are declining in Maryland and across the nation. The good news is that the problem is not hunting, but declining habitat due to land development and modern farming methods. Habitat improvement is a problem that can be solved."
Bird and rabbit hunters have complained that increases in deer hunting seasons and lengths have seriously cut into upland hunting time. The DNR has responded by proposing to open the season Nov. 7 instead of Nov. 15.
Forest Game Project Manager Steve Bittner reported that grouse populations are up and should continue to rise over the next few years. Also, he reported on the trapping of 73 ruffed grouse in Western Maryland and their successful release in Charles County. This trap and release was done via $18,000 in donated funds from the Grouse Society.
Bittner also reported that bears continue to increase in the state. Twelve were killed last year -- 10 by trucks and cars and two by poachers. Maryland does not have a bear hunting season. Bittner predicted a record-breaking spring turkey hunt, which will FTC be our first modern-era statewide turkey season. Last spring 1,744 turkeys were bagged during the spring hunt.
According to officials at the meeting, the deer herd remains in excellent condition, evidenced by 51,593 bagged in 1994, which was another increase over the previous year's numbers. That figure is broken down as 11,316 for bow hunters, 32,758 for rifle/shotgun hunters and 7,519 for muzzleloaders.
Also reported were a few samples of hunter surveys. According to their statistics, 32,438 rabbit hunters bagged 222,120; 40,653 squirrel hunters took 369,186; and 20,732 dove hunters bagged 351,045.
Trout season got off to a successful start last Saturday. Anne Arundel County will receive 6,000 stocked fish.
Severn Run got 1,250 for opening day and is scheduled for another 1,500 April 16. Lake Waterford has been stocked with 1,750 and will receive two more stockings of 750 each next Sunday and April 16.
* The highlight of the social year for many Maryland trout fans is the annual Gurney Godfrey Dinner and Exposition. This year's event is set for April 29 at the Oregon Ridge Lodge, Beaver Dam Road in Cockeysville. The expo is free from noon to 5 p.m. Dinner is $30 and this year's speaker is noted angler and outdoor writer Boyd Pfeiffer. Call (410) 859-5989 for dinner tickets or write Bill Church, 305 Sudbury Road, Linthicum, MD 21090.