September 18 Public Hearing at Division of Fish & Wildlife
On Monday September 18, 2017 the MA Joint Committee on Environment Natural Resources & Agriculture held a public hearing at the MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife Headquarters in Westborough, MA. Senator Gobi (D) and Senator Pignatelli (D) chair the committee
The hearing began with opening remarks from Senator Gobi, who began by thanking everyone in attendance, then reminding people to keep testimony to three minutes or less, “the Gettysburg address was three minutes and we can surely keep our comments to 3 minutes or less”. Senator Pignatelli welcomed everyone as did Jack Buckley, the Director of the Division.
GOAL’s past president, Ron Amidon, who is now Commissioner of the Department of Fish & Game for the state of MA was first to speak and testified in favor of a number of bills including crossbow hunting “there’s no issue barring legalizing this”, and shotgun ammo,“the law needs to be adjusted as ammo has evolved”.
GOAL Executive Director Jim Wallace spoke next, beginning by joking with Senator Pignatelli, welcoming him to “western MA”. Wallace spoke in favor of GOAL’s Outdoor Heritage Act, outlining all of the sections and what they do. Reminding the committee, “we are the only group of people banned from using public land on a Sunday, and we pay for that land.” He also testified about a need for increased penalties for hunter harassment, “hunter harassment threats have stepped up” and a need to better manage the bear population, “We are pleased that the bear population is doing well, but we cannot be like NJ and ignore it, they had 1500 (bear) home invasions in one year”
Jake from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) followed Jim, testifying in favor of the outdoor heritage act, he focused on the Sunday hunting section, “I’ve worked on Sunday hunting across the country, three states passed – the department should be able to regulate hunting and get rid of prohibition.” He noted that Massachusetts receives close to 15 million annually from the Pittman Robertson Act, which is fully funded by gun owners and sportsmen.
Paul Johnson from Plymouth County League followed Jake, speaking in favor of legalizing Sunday hunting, noting, “MA is one of three states that does not allow it.” He noted that S433 would provide a streamlined transition towards that legalization. “Our state spends money on hunter nourishment programs but won’t address the root cause of lack of participation, opportunity”, finishing with “if 47 states allow Sunday hunting, why not MA?” Senator Gobi asked Paul about his youth hunting program and the participation, Paul noted that the programs is highly successful and includes many females.
Mandy Deveno spoke next and spoke about hunting being a family affair and tradition, noting that hunters and gun owners pay for a large amount of public lands. She noted that MA, by not allowing Sunday hunting causes the state to lose revenue as hunters head to our neighboring states on Sunday. She also spoke in favor of crossbow hunting, noting that her ten-year-old daughter Anna wants to use a crossbow for hunting because she doesn’t like using a shotgun (recoil) noting that she isn’t strong enough to hunt with a traditional bow. She also spoke in favor of the ammo bill, cased firearm bill, and streamlining all bills to make them easier to understand.
The MSPCA was there to testify and not surprisingly testified in opposition to Sunday hunting. They claimed that hikers, bikers and bird watchers contacted them worried about losing “the one day they don’t have to worry about using the land”. They also stated, “these bills target a small minority of MA residents”, noting, “SCOTUS stated that hunting is not a right.” They also spoke against bow hunting stating, “that only half of the deer hit by arrows are killed”.
The executive director of the Humane Society also spoke and testified against hunting with lights and bear baiting, stating that bear baiting grows the population. She also noted that using a light gives the human an “unfair advantage” (because the animal freezes when hit by light). She also spoke against the unloaded bill stating that it would increase poaching.
Representative Fernandes asked the director about moving the no hunting day to another day of the week? The HS panel said they would “talk about it”. Senator Gobi followed that by asking about Sunday hunting on private land owned by a private land owner, the panel was hesitant to answer, then stammered, finally saying that “it’s certainly something we could talk about.” It was pretty obvious they had no interest in discussing it, or compromise of any sort.
Joshua Rich of Plymouth testified as an individual. Noting, “the Outdoor heritage act only moves decisions to division, it does not authorize anything”. He spoke in favor of Sunday hunting, noting his schedule often gives him only Sunday off. He also noted that the hunting season in MA is only open for a short part of the year so the “only day I can go out” rhetoric from the people who wish to keep Sunday as a no hunting day isn’t fair. He also spoke about allowing Sunday hunting on private land, “I don’t know why a private land owner shouldn’t be able to do that”. He followed by making a great point that hunters pay for public lands and don’t ban anyone from land use on any day of the week; yet, the people who pay for it are banned.
Ken Brown from MA Bow Hunters followed, testifying in favor of 433, 435, 447 and 437 noting that he represents 30K MA bow hunters. He noted that “he feels encouraged because the MSPCA said they would discuss hunting on other days on private land because it gets to the heart of 433 as it give the division regulatory control.” He also took exception to some things said by MSPCA about “minorities”. Noting that a person has never been hurt in MA by a bow hunter, noting that the same “people will get hurt” rhetoric was used when the season was lengthened, with no issue – also noting that in most of the country everyone can use land at the same time without issue. Senator Gobi asked about the 30K bow hunters, Ken noted that’s how many the state of MA has, and that MA number of hunters has been flat while other states are increasing.
Matt Ronzio spoke in favor next, as a lifetime resident of MA who grew up hunting out of state because of lack of opportunity. He spoke in favor of 433 Sunday hunting bill, so that he could have time in his busy schedule to teach his kids to hunt.
From our perspective the day was successful. There was a lot of very good testimony given and the committee seemed keen to hear the thoughts of sportsmen currently affected by over-regulation of hunting in Massachusetts.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to contact their legislators and the committee about this legislation and especially to the people who took time out of their schedule to attend in person and testify.
We will await the committee report on these bills and of course, will notify if and when the next action item occurs.