The Maine Legislature’s Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) voted against a bill Monday that would have allowed Mainers to hunt on Sundays.
The original language of LD 2014 would have allowed Sunday hunting of wild birds and animals “north of U.S. Route 2 from the New Hampshire border to Bangor, north of Route 9 from Bangor to the Canadian border and within any portion of the White Mountain National Forest in the State.”
The bill also would have allowed private landowners in all other areas of the state to hunt on their private property on Sundays, as well as anyone with written permission from a landowner to hunt on their private property on Sundays.
By a vote of seven to three, the committee voted against a motion to pass an amended version of the bill, which removed the language allowing Sunday hunting in certain geographic areas. The amended version of the bill would have allowed private landowners to hunt on Sundays on their own land, as well as hunters with written permission from landowners.
The motion to amend the bill was made by Rep. Lester Ordway (R-Standish), who previously sponsored LD 1212, which contained identical language to LD 2014’s language authorizing Sunday hunting north of Route 2 and Route 9 and within the White Mountain National Forest. LD 1212 died in the legislature in June 2021.
In July 2021, Gov. Janet Mills signed a resolve directing the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIFW) to create a stakeholder group to examine Sunday hunting. The resolve allocated $15,000 in fiscal year 2021-2022 to the DIFW’s Office of the Commissioner to gather the stakeholder group and conduct a survey about statewide hunting. The department was required to present its findings to the IFW Committee by January 3.
The survey sampled four groups: the state’s general population of individuals aged 18 or older, licensed hunters over the age of 16, private landowners with 10 or more acres and large industrial landowners with 100,000 or more acres.
According to the survey’s executive summary, 54% of Maine’s general population oppose Sunday hunting and about 34% support it. Support for Sunday hunting was higher among hunters, with 69% of respondents supporting it and 23% opposing it.
Survey respondents who opposed Sunday hunting were asked an open-ended follow-up question and a “strong majority” said they opposed it because Sunday is the only day they feel safe in the woods “without having to worry about hunters.”
The results of the survey were referenced multiple times during the public hearing on LD 2014, which was held on March 14 immediately before the committee’s work session on the bill.
Timothy Peabody, deputy commissioner of the DIFW, testified in opposition to the bill on the basis of the survey results. Peabody also said that if the bill were to pass, “Maine’s time-honored tradition of public access to private property is possibly in jeopardy, not only for hunting but for all other outdoor recreational activities.”
Peabody said the bill was not “simply a Sunday hunting issue” and had the potential to impact all other outdoor recreational activities.
Rep. Jim Thorne (R-Carmel) also spoke in opposition to the bill. Thorne said, if passed, the bill would “strip away that understood concept of mutual respect [between hunters and landowners] by implementing a written permission system in order to hunt on lands that have always been open to access without written permission, just in order to be able to hunt on Sunday.”
Several agricultural organizations, including the Maine Potato Board and the Maine Farm Bureau Association, testified against the bill. Speaking on behalf of the Maine Potato Board, Don Flanney said Maine has a system that is “unique in that it allows pretty much free access to land” and that the system doesn’t need to be fixed.
Don Kleiner, speaking against the bill for the Maine Professional Guides Association, said LD 2014 as written creates a system “of winners and losers” and will mean some hunters and landowners in the state will have greater opportunities than others.
Kleiner also said the bill would institute reverse posting and expressed “deep concern” over anything that puts public access to land at risk.
A number of hunting organizations, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), testified in favor of the bill.
Speaking on behalf of the NRA’s Maine chapter, Lauren LePage said the bill “comes at a time when Maine families are struggling with increased expenses in virtually every aspect of their lives.”
“Allowing hard-working Maine families to spend Sunday in the woods in an effort to fill their freezer will help during these difficult times,” LePage added.
Jo Mulin, speaking on behalf of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, said Sunday hunting would allow for “increased access for Maine’s hunting community” to individuals who can’t otherwise participate because of school and extracurricular activities during the other days of the week when hunting is permitted.
Rep. William Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor) also testified in support of the bill, saying it would allow his children to spend more time hunting with family.
Luke Hilgemann, testifying for the bill on behalf of Hunter Nation, said the bill would have a positive economic impact, as it would lead to hunters planning weekend trips which they may not currently do because of the prohibition on Sunday hunting.
Both bodies of the legislature will meet again on Thursday, March 17, where they could take action on the IFW Committee’s recommendation.