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Environmentalists should help repeal Sunday hunting ban

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In the messy world of politics, the most basic rule is — when you philosophically can — support those who support you and your causes. This is not an ugly rule in the pay-to-play, Blago kind of way. Instead, this is a kinder, gentler rule — sort of like helping family members because they are, well, family.

It is for this reason, among others, that Virginia's environmentally minded legislators should support repealing the ban on Sunday hunting. Without repeal of the ban, the future of the sportsman in Virginia is in serious question. And without sportsmen, Virginia's environmental coalition loses a vital partner.

Consider these facts:

  • A 2006 survey of sportsmen in South Carolina found that 71 percent were "very or somewhat" concerned about global climate change.
  • The Virginia agency with the largest landholdings is not the Department of Conservation and Recreation but the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
  • Forty percent of those who participate in conservation organizations are hunters.

It makes sense that sportsmen are conservationists. Sportsmen notice migration patterns; they understand land fragmentation; they realize that habitat protection matters.

But this vital cog in Virginia's environmental coalition is under threat. The number of individuals purchasing hunting licenses in Virginia dropped from a high of more than 500,000 in 1988 to about 300,000 in 2010, while Virginia's population increased from about 6 million to about 8 million. From 1980 to 2000, the percentage of hunters older than 35 rose from 50 to 70 percent.

A primary cause of the aging of the hunting population and the decline in individuals purchasing licenses is the difficulty many hunters (and would-be hunters) have finding time to get into the woods or the marsh. For example, a 2004 survey by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership found a combination of "amount of free time," "work obligations" and "family obligations" to be the No. 1 reason for the loss of interest in hunting. We all lead busy lives — and precluding hunters from engaging in an otherwise lawful activity one day out of the weekend may be enough to kill the sport in the long run.

Could you imagine a statutory ban on Sunday golf — if the state were to shutter golf courses for 50 percent of the weekend by statutory fiat? Now could you imagine if golf were permissible only during a few months every year and only for licensed golfers? Courses would close, pros would find other places to work, the opportunity cost of keeping those golf clubs would jump substantially, and the sport would likely wither on the vine or remain available only to those fortunate enough to take off work consistently to golf during the week.

The idea, while ludicrous, provides a nice backdrop for the plight of the modern Virginia hunter. Simply put, the ban on Sunday hunting is strangling this important part of Virginia's heritage and culture and, in the process, cutting the numbers of some of Virginia's most dedicated environmental stewards.

No wonder PETA is opposed to repealing Virginia's ban on Sunday hunting. It understands that if you keep the ban, eventually you kill the sport.

The General Assembly — led by Virginia's environmentalists — should repeal this arcane law. A repeal might be outright or partial — perhaps the General Assembly allows hunting only on private lands and public waters on Sundays. Regardless, the law needs to recognize Virginia's 21st-century reality.

Sure, most environmentalists vote Democratic, and sportsmen are far more likely to vote Republican. But then again, environmental protection should never become a partisan issue.

And going out for a morning in the duck blind doesn't make people vote Republican. But it might just help them push for cleaner water, more open space and, of course, a better Virginia.

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