- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

Maryland's hunters and anglers, afraid of losing their rights to the power of political correctness, are forming a statewide political action group to get out the vote, lobby government and handpick candidates.

Members of the Maryland Coalition for Responsible Wildlife Management hope to become a formidable force on every level, from town councils to the General Assembly and the office of the governor.

"The outdoor sporting community is fed up," said Steve Palmer, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsmen and a coalition organizer.

"Today, if you want to be effective and achieve goals and maintain your privileges to hunt and fish, you must do it in a political arena."

The sportsmen were angered, in particular, by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's appointment of a "Non-Lethal Task Force on Wildlife." The task force in December will submit wildlife management recommendations that don't involve shooting animals.

Hunters from the Western Maryland Coalition of Sportsmen's Clubs have sent postcards and letters this year to state lawmakers objecting to the ban on hunting bears and migratory Canada geese.

"We're going to have to spend some time in the political process," said Lee Osmansky of the Mountain Partnership, a pro-hunting Western Maryland group.

He said past attempts by individual outdoor groups failed to unite hunters because no statewide network was in place. "I have more faith in this organization."

Mr. Palmer said the new network will bring together clubs and associations from across the state. "We're asking these clubs, if they don't have a legislative committee, to establish one," he said.

So far, about 20 smaller groups from Western and Central Maryland have signed on to support the coalition, some with upwards of 3,000 members.

Mr. Palmer estimated the state has 600,000 licensed hunters, anglers and trappers.

"Each one can influence two or three voters," he said. "We conceivably can have 2 million votes. That can determine who sits in the governor's chair."

A Web site is in the works, and should be running next week. Organizers also want to hire a lobbyist in Annapolis.

Delegate George Edwards, Garrett Republican, said it's time for such a coalition to organize.

"I think they ought to do it. They should join together like the environmental groups do," Mr. Edwards said. "Sometimes numbers do matter when people make decisions."

Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat, said hunters can make "a very, very potent coalition."

"They need to be united in not only the hunting area, but they have to express their voice in the whole gun-control issue," Mr. Kelly said.

Delegate Jean Cryor, Montgomery Republican, said it's always a good idea for like minds to combine their resources, but "I never thought that Maryland ignored hunters."

Mr. Glendening's office referred calls to the Department of Natural Resources. A spokesman for the agency, Chuck Porcari, said he looks forward to working with the coalition. "I think it's a very positive development. We're certainly looking forward to hearing from as many voices as possible," he said.

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