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Lawmakers still seeking deal to allow Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 6:51 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Find a way to make nice.

That was the message lawmakers on the Pennsylvania Senate game and fisheries committee delivered to people on both sides of the Sunday hunting issue at a hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Forty-six states — perhaps soon to be 48, as Massachusetts and Delaware lawmakers are advancing legislation — have no prohibition on Sunday hunting.

Pennsylvania, along with Maine, is one of two holdouts. Here, sportsmen can chase coyotes, foxes and crows on Sundays at times, but nothing else.

Sportsmen's groups have been trying to change that for years, with no success. A bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Frank Farina, a Lackawanna County Democrat, and Rep. Bob Godshall, a Montgomery County Republican, and one in the Senate by Sen. Jim Brewster, an Allegheny County Democrat, are the latest attempts to eliminate the ban.

Committee members “haven't made any decisions,” committee chairman Mario Scavello, a Monroe County Republican, said at the start of Wednesday's gathering. But they do get a “tremendous amount” of correspondence on the issue, pro and con, so the hearing was a chance to get input.

Much of the testimony was predictable. Representatives of the Keystone Trails Association, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Equine Council and Pennsylvania Grange said — as they have for years — that their members oppose allowing hunting on Sundays.

They cited a number of reasons, from safety concerns to economics.

Joe Neville, executive director of the Trails Association, said many members — who volunteer thousands of hours to maintain pathways on public land — often hike Sundays because they don't feel comfortable sharing the woods with people carrying guns.

“So we're very protective of those trails and our right to use them one day a week,” he said.

Joel Rotz, senior director of state government affairs for the Farm Bureau, said farmers remain adamantly opposed, too.

In his written testimony, he pointed to groundhogs as proof. They're “perhaps one of the most exasperating forms of wildlife” for farmers because of the damage they can do to fields and equipment, he said.

“Our members still decided that having six days a week for groundhog hunting was enough, and that first day of the week — Sunday — needed to be preserved for their own peace and quiet and enjoyment of their property without the interruption of hunters,” Rotz said.

Speaking in support of legalizing hunting on Sundays were the usual proponents: the Pennsylvania Game Commission, National Rifle Association, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, National Shooting Sports Foundation and Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania.

They, too, offered up familiar arguments, centered around how providing hunting on Sundays would open up opportunity to families and children, boost local economies and allow for a more fair sharing of the woods.

The NRA's John Hohenwarter said suggestions that Sunday hunting will lead to the ruination of horseback riding opportunities, injuries in the woods and more are baseless predictions of doom and gloom.

“But at the end of the day, the sky doesn't fall,” Hohenwarter said.

John Kline, representing the Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, also called for perspective, noting hunters only want access to a few weekends.

“How many Sundays are we talking about? Not 52,” he said.

After hearing the testimony from all involved, Sen. Sean Wiley, an Erie County Democrat, said he'd had a change of heart. He entered the hearing opposed to Sunday hunting, he said.

He left believing there's room for compromise.

“I truly believe there's an opportunity to maybe sit down and address some of the concerns we have with Sunday hunting,” he said.

Brewster called on those on both sides of the issue to likewise figure a way to meet in the middle. Legalizing Sunday hunting is an issue with room for compromise, he said.

“I don't think we can make the argument it's not doable,” Brewster said.

Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via @bobfryeoutdoors.

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