Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Op-Ed: Hikers, Birders & Bikers Should Not Be Swayed By Inaccuracies About Sunday Hunting

By Jim Foster

I’m an enthusiastic hiker, backpacker and trail maintainer.  I help to maintain two separate sections of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.  My wife and I regularly hike on State Game Lands.
So, I’m worried about the movement to allow Sunday hunting in PA, right?  NOT AT ALL!!
In this era of fact-free opinion journalism, I believe it is important to look at the verifiable facts about hunting, especially Sunday hunting.  Non-hunters should not be swayed by irrational fears and preconceived notions.
Here are the facts, as I see them: 1. Sunday hunting has become legal throughout the U.S. and will likely become legal in PA soon. 2. By any rational measurement, it is not dangerous to hike, birdwatch or ride a bike with hunters, if you take a few simple precautions.  3. Most hunters are environmentalists too, and all of us who love the outdoors need to unite against the threats to it.
Most states currently allow hunting on Sunday.  Our neighbors in Delaware approved extensive Sunday hunting in 2018.  Virginia approved it in 2014. West Virginia approved Sunday hunting on public lands in 2018.  
As of now, just three states have an extensive ban on Sunday hunting, Pennsylvania, Maine and Massachusetts.
By the way, did you know that hunting on Sunday is NOT really banned in PA?  You can currently hunt coyote, crows and foxes on Sunday. The trend is clear.  Sunday hunting is coming.
At least one and probably several bills will soon be introduced in the PA Legislature to allow significantly more Sunday hunting.
It IS safe to hike, bird, etc. in the woods with hunters.  I come from a family of hunters and I own a rifle, although I no longer hunt.  Perhaps my cherished childhood experience hunting with my Dad is why I don’t worry much about being in the woods with hunters.  
I appreciate that many hikers, birders and mountain bikers did not grow up in the country like me.  Nor did many of you have a wonderful father who showed me the joys of connecting with nature while harvesting game in a responsible manner.  
Some of you may be under the false apprehension that many hunters are reckless gun toters with no concern for safety.
I’m here to tell you that’s not true.  Did you know that almost all hunters had to take a hunter safety course before they could buy a hunting license?  Sometimes I think my fellow hikers should have to take a hiker safety course before going into the back country.
It’s easy to be swayed by hype.  But, statistically, the most dangerous thing we hikers do is drive on the highway to the trailhead.  
The data shows that, on average, 37,000 people die on the highways each year.  Similar data shows that fewer than 1,000 people are shot in hunting accidents in our country, and fewer than 75 are fatalities.  
So, 493 times as many people die on the highways each year as are killed by hunters!!  
Almost everyone knows several people who were killed on the highway.  Do you know any hikers or birders who were killed by hunters?
It is a good idea to take some precautions when enjoying the woods with hunters.  I follow a simple rule when hiking on a State Game Land or other woods where hunting is permitted.  
I wear some blaze orange.  I don’t worry about what game is in season, I always wear a blaze orange hat or vest.  (Remember, you can always hunt something in PA.) Also, even I decline to hike on SGLs at certain times.  
The best example is the popular two-week regular firearm deer season, which starts right after Thanksgiving.  Even then, I don’t feel especially nervous, if I have blaze orange on. But we enjoy the solitude of the woods, and there’s not much solitude during that period.
The last point is probably the most important one.  Most hunters are environmentalists too, and you have a vested interest in their continued viability.  
How can that be?  Many of our best hiking trails are on State Game Lands, in whole or in part.  That includes the granddaddy of all trails, the Appalachian Trail.
These precious wild spaces are protected and maintained by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.  Who provides the funding for the PGC’s extensive protection operations: hunters, almost entirely.  
The lion's share of funding for the PGC comes from hunting license fees and an excise tax on firearms and ammunition, commonly known as Pittman-Robertson.  The PGC uses these funds to protect many wildlife species, many of which are NOT hunted by sportsmen. And, that doesn’t even count the amazing work done by hunting environmental groups like Ducks Unlimited.
Here is what is for me the bottom line.  Our wild spaces are under siege from many threats: urban sprawl, invasive species, damage from fossil fuel extraction, to name just a few.  Those of us who love the outdoors need to join forces to fight back this onslaught.
The last thing we environmentalists need to do is pick fights with fellow environmentalists based on inaccuracies and irrational prejudice, just because they enjoy the outdoors with a rifle in their hands.  
Finally, here’s one positive step you can take.  Join me in supporting the PA Game Commission by purchasing a hunting license each year, even if you don’t hunt.
[Note: The Senate Game and Fisheries Committee is scheduled to meet TODAY at 9:30 to consider Senate Bill 147 (Laughlin-R-Erie) to give the Game Commission authority to allow Sunday hunting.]

Jim Foster is a retired attorney who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail several years ago.  He is a life member and active maintainer with Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Keystone Trails Association, Cumberland Valley Appalachian Trail Club and several other trails organizations.  He serves on Gov. Wolf’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation.  He lives with his wife in suburban Harrisburg.  He can be contacted by sending email to: jimhfoster@yahoo.com.

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