Appellate Court Finds Bow Hunting in Montgomery County Parks Isn’t Animal Cruelty

Decision affirms circuit court’s ruling against Bethesda resident


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MONTGOMERY COUNTY PARKS

The Montgomery Parks system is not running afoul of animal cruelty laws by using bow hunting to curb the deer population, an appeals court decided.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruling last month came in a case filed against the parks system by Bethesda resident Eilene Cohhn, who has spent about two years trying to block the deer-management program.

A three-judge panel noted in an opinion written by Judge Donald Beachley that bow hunting is legal in Maryland and found that the park system’s pilot program is also permissible, as long as hunters follow all relevant laws and regulations.

“There is no indication in the record that the Pilot Program will be conducted in a way that violates the applicable laws and regulations pertaining to bow hunting,” the Oct. 18 judicial opinion stated.

The judges affirmed a Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling against Cohhn, who filed her case against parks officials in September 2015. A month before, the parks system launched its program to test out bow hunting in Great Seneca Stream Valley Park in Germantown and Watts Branch Stream Valley Park in Potomac. The program aimed to manage deer overpopulation by allowing groups of insured archers to hunt the animals from September through January.

Cohhn and attorneys with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have argued that bow hunting constitutes animal cruelty in part because deer are sometimes wounded but not killed by arrows, according to the court’s unreported opinion.

Other jurisdictions with bow-hunting programs have found between 3 and 17 percent of deer are struck without dying right away, according to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The plaintiffs said there were preferable methods of controlling the deer population, such as sharpshooting.

“Deer populations are more effectively managed by reducing the availability of food than by firing steel arrows, which tear through deer’s flesh, leaving them to die slowly in pain,” PETA attorney Jeff Kerr said in a written statement provided to Bethesda Beat Tuesday.

Kerr wrote that Montgomery County residents should learn “to live alongside deer” and ask the parks department to stop spending tax dollars on “cruel” ways of culling the population.

Cohhn and parks officials weren’t immediately available to comment on the ruling.

Representatives with the parks system have contended that bow hunting is just as humane as sharpshooting. The Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Salant agreed with Cohhn that hunting with arrows isn’t as humane as sharpshooting, but decided it didn’t rise to the level of animal cruelty.

Cohhn’s attorneys acknowledged that the state generally permits archery hunts, but drew a distinction between “recreational” activities and using the bow method on parks property as part of a deer-management program.

But Beachley wrote   that the state’s natural resources laws do not support this point and, to the contrary, recognize that “hunting is an essential component of effective wildlife management …”  

The three-judge panel listened to attorneys for Cohhn and MNCPPC present their respective cases in early October. The Maryland Daily Record first reported on the appellate court’s opinion.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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