EDITORIAL: Pennsylvania needs to give deer-hunting changes an opportunity to work
The easiest move is nearly always to do nothing.
Inaction rarely causes controversy.
Change, however, almost always leads to a fight.
That’s especially true when dealing with a tradition as venerable and cherished as deer hunting in Pennsylvania.
So, it’s not surprising that a few recent changes to the state’s deer-hunting regulations have caused quite a bit of consternation.
The changes: The 2019 rifle deer hunt featured a Saturday opener. That ended a nearly six-decade custom of opening the rifle deer season on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
In 2020, three days of Sunday hunting will be permitted. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the Sunday hunting bill three days before the Saturday start of the 2019 rifle deer season.
Naturally, both moves met with serious opposition from a variety of sources.
Some hunters despise the fact that the state is messing with the deer-camp tradition.
The anti-hunting crowd, of course, is opposed to any expansion of hunting.
And many hikers and other nature lovers don’t like the fact that a few of their treasured Sundays — a day they’ve long enjoyed for its solitude and safety — must now be shared with hunters with guns.
Action is needed: Still, despite the strong opposition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the state’s politicians combined forces to push through the bipartisan changes.
They should be commended for that.
Doing nothing would’ve been easy, but it also would’ve been a mistake, because it’s clear that something needs to be done to save the state’s hunting tradition.
In 1982, general hunting license sales in Pennsylvania totaled more than 1.3 million. In 2018, that number was fewer than 860,000. That’s a decline of more than 30% in less than four decades.
If that trend continues, Pennsylvania hunting will soon become an endangered activity.
Nonhunters may think to themselves: “Who cares? It doesn’t impact me.”
Well, it’s been estimated that hunting in Pennsylvania has an annual economic impact north of $1.5 billion. That’s not chump change. A continued decline in hunting will result in lost jobs and wages, a decline in tax revenue and a reduction in funds for game-land conservation and environmental protections.
Those issues should certainly concern every Pennsylvanian.
Reasonable compromise: Wolf believes the Sunday-hunting measure balances landowners’ needs with those of hunters who can’t take weekdays off from school or work.
More weekend hunting opportunities should help attract more hunters, especially young hunters. It’s imperative that a new generation of hunters is nurtured and developed. Otherwise, the sport’s long-term future is bleak.
The legislation permits Sunday hunting on one day during rifle deer season, one during statewide archery deer season and a third day the Game Commission will pick. That seems like a fair compromise, since the Sunday-hunting supporters originally wanted 14 Sundays of hunting.
In addition, Sunday hunting will require a landowner's written permission. The bill also makes it easier to enforce anti-trespassing laws.
Pennsylvania’s prohibition on Sunday hunting dates to the 19th century, although there are currently exceptions for crows, foxes and coyotes, and for noncommercial private game reserves. The prohibition is archaic. Pennsylvania is one of only 11 states with statutes that either ban or restrict hunting on Sundays.
At this point, no one knows for sure if a Saturday opener and limited Sunday hunting will solve the state’s hunting decline. Still, it’s clear that something needed to be done.
A few years from now, the effectiveness of the changes can be judged. If they’re not working, the changes can be revisited.
Until then, let’s give the changes a chance to see how they work.
It’s certainly better than sitting back and doing nothing.