Anne Arundel Co. asks to legalize venison programs
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — In response to growing deer damage on its farms, Anne Arundel County is asking the state legislature to legalize one of its controversial solutions: allowing counties to establish venison donation programs that incentivize hunting.
Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, submitted a bill in January that would allow counties to process lawfully hunted, white-tailed deer if the venison is donated to a tax-exempt food bank. The bill stems from a program launched by Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman last year that paid licensed hunters $50 for each deer killed in the county and donated.
The program sparked a rebuke from the state Department of Natural Resources, which claimed the county had illegally placed a bounty on deer, a regulated, state-owned resource. The county disagreed, allowed the program to proceed and more than 250 deer and nearly 6,000 pounds of venison were processed and donated.
“We think we’re on solid ground, legally, and we’re going to take this to the legislature and fight the fight there and get this all settled,” Pittman said.
Although the state already has a special hunting permit for farmers managing deer damage, too few are killed because hunters, including farmers, must pay to have the animals processed, he said. Farmers across the Delmarva region have been struggling with increasing deer damage for years as the state’s deer population has rapidly expanded.
It’s led to a situation where farmers essentially pay to feed a government resource but are not reimbursed if the resource consumes their crops, Pittman said.
“When I planted alfalfa it was gone before it came up,” said Pittman, a farmer. “If a local government cares about farming and wants to help it and protect it, this is a way to do it, and it makes no sense that DNR is fighting it.”
A natural resources department official could not be reached for comment.
The department doesn’t want to overhunt the state’s deer population, a useful resource for recreational hunters, because the sale of hunting licenses and matching federal money funds most of the department’s wildlife services department, said Colby Ferguson, government relations director at the Maryland Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau is supporting Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill for the same reasons as Pittman, he said.
The bill would make it possible for counties across the state to begin similar programs.
The House Environment and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on the bill Feb. 10 at 1:30 p.m.