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Md. appellate court: Montgomery County bowhunting program not animal cruelty

‘We are confident that the General Assembly was aware of the provisions in the Natural Resources Article which recognize the importance of hunting for a variety of reasons, including wildlife population management,’ the Court of Special Appeals held in allowing Montgomery County to proceed with a pilot bowhunting program to control the deer population at two county parks. (File photo)

‘We are confident that the General Assembly was aware of the provisions in the Natural Resources Article which recognize the importance of hunting for a variety of reasons, including wildlife population management,’ the Court of Special Appeals held in allowing Montgomery County to proceed with a pilot bowhunting program to control the deer population at two county parks. (File photo)

A pilot bowhunting program to control the deer population at two Montgomery County parks is not considered animal cruelty under state law, a Maryland appellate court has held.

The Montgomery County Department of Parks announced the deer management program in August 2015 for Great Seneca Stream Valley Park and Watts Branch Stream Valley Park. Bethesda resident Eilene Cohhn filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court a month later, arguing the program violated state animal cruelty laws because more humane alternatives were available to control the deer population for the two parks, including the use of police sharpshooters.

A judge denied her request for a temporary restraining order to halt the program and ruled that while bowhunting was less humane that sharpshooting the pilot program did not constitute animal cruelty under the state statute.

The Court of Special Appeals agreed in an unreported opinion issued earlier this month, holding the program could proceed under a lawful hunting exemption and the animal cruelty code did not apply.

“Here, we are confident that the General Assembly was aware of the provisions in the Natural Resources Article which recognize the importance of hunting for a variety of reasons, including wildlife population management,” Judge Donald E. Beachley wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel, adding lawmakers did not intend for hunting under those regulations to constitute animal cruelty.

Jenni James, senior counsel to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Cohhn’s lawyer, was disappointed with the ruling but said Monday a decision has not been made on whether to seek review by the Court of Appeals.

“It’s just outrageous that Montgomery County is sentencing deer to slow, agonizing deaths,” said James.

James added bowhunting causes animals to die slowly and has a higher error rate than sharpshooting, meaning a deer might be injured but not killed. She urged Montgomery County residents “to live alongside the deer and to demand that their parks department stop wasting their tax dollars” to find new, ineffective ways to kill the deer.

“Lethal methods just don’t work,” she said, adding the deer population recovers each year.

William Dickerson, attorney for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, did not respond to a request for comment Monday. The commission and the parks department argued bowhunting is as humane as sharpshooting and is “the most reasonable means available,” according to the appellate opinion.

The case is Eilene Cohhn v. Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, et al., No. 1577, September Term, 2016.


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