State House lawmakers voiced frustration Thursday with one of the opponents of lifting Pennsylvania’s Sunday hunting ban. The proposal would put the Pennsylvania Game Commission in charge of regulating hunting on Sundays.
Among those against it is the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the state’s largest organization of farms, representing more than 53,000 members. Joel Rotz, State Governmental Relations director for the Bureau, said farmers are reluctant to give up the one day they can count on not having to worry about hunters on or around their land.
But at the third hearing on Sunday hunting, lawmakers on the Game and Fisheries Committee called the Farm Bureau uncompromising in its position, and urged the organization to change the way it comes to group decisions.
Rotz said the bureau’s Board of Directors will revisit the issue at the annual policy-setting meeting in November.
“I can assure you the issue is going to be discussed on our delegate floor,” said Rotz, “because at least one county has pushed the resolution forward to change our position on Sunday hunting. Not going to go into any more detail than that, but the discussion’s going to take place.”
Republican Rep. Jeff Pyle, of Armstrong County, questioned how the Farm Bureau’s stance against Sunday hunting could be so absolute, when his own constituents appeared divided on the issue.
“NRA and the pro-Sunday hunting guys last weekend dropped a mailer on my district,” said Pyle. “‘Contact me! Let me know what you think.’ Want to know what the count is? 220 to 180 thus far, since last Saturday, in favor.”
The hearing came one week after the release of a report done by the Florida-based natural resources research firm Southwick Associates, and authorized by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee. The report estimates Pennsylvania could stand to see more than $800 million in annual economic activity if hunting is legalized on Sundays.
Rotz said the study defies common sense.
“How much of the expected economic impact is actually new dollars coming into the state? In other words, are we concluding that everyone who will be out hunting on Sundays currently does nothing to contribute to the state’s economy on Sunday?”
Proponents of Sunday hunting include sportsmen’s groups. Lobbyists from various hunting organizations said keeping the old blue law on the books denies the state millions in annual economic activity that would result from allowing hunters to schedule a full weekend in Pennsylvania. They voiced concern for the decline in active hunters in Pennsylvania, and argued that some people maybe only have the option of hunting on Sunday.
Mike Budzik, a lobbyist with the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, said Ohio lifted its Sunday hunting ban in 2002 and hasn’t had any of the problems that recreational groups against Sunday hunting expected – like interference with hikers, foragers, or foliage enthusiasts known as “leaf peepers.”
“We haven’t shot any horseback riders, haven’t shot any horses. We haven’t got any mushroom pickers, or berry pickers, or hikers, or peepers, or whatever. Honestly, in not any joking form, it hasn’t happened.”