Monday, April 14, 2014

Horse Council asks Governor to veto Sunday hunting bills

Here is the letter the Horse Council sent to Governor O'Malley, asking him to veto the bills that would allow Sunday hunting on both public and private land in Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

April 4, 2014
The Honorable Martin J. O’Malley Governor of Maryland
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Governor O’Malley:

The Maryland Horse Council has worked hard during this legislative session alongside other organizations representing outdoor recreation interests to block the expansion of Sunday hunting in Maryland. Our senators and delegates listened at hearing after hearing as our members and allies (many of whom are avid deer hunters) described the need for one day each week in the period from October into January when we can hike, ride horses, watch birds, and do whatever we like outdoors without fear of encounters with hunters, and when the deer herd itself can “settle.” Several statewide Sunday hunting bills as well as county bills in Anne Arundel, Calvert, and Harford were successfully blocked.

We had a very productive meeting with DNR Secretary Gill on March 5 at which we pointed out the inconsistency of DNR’s positions on this issue. On the one hand, DNR actively lobbies for expanding Sunday hunting, saying that it is necessary to achieve their goal of controlling the deer population. On the other hand, DNR has publicly stated its desire to increase the deer population in western Maryland, and opposed a southern Maryland bill that would establish a program to train deer hunters to reduce the herd on farms. We also pointed out to Secretary Gill that the statistics DNR uses to lobby for Sunday hunting are drawn from annual harvest reports that actually demonstrate Sunday hunting’s failure to increase the overall harvest.

As a result of our March 5 meeting, Secretary Gill asked the budget committees to include a request that DNR conduct a Deer Population Management Report (Committee Narrative K00A03.01) to assess the relative impact of Sunday hunting versus other deer herd reduction strategies. We were impressed by Secretary Gill’s responsiveness to our concerns and look forward to working with DNR as they compile information for this study and write the report. We also appreciate your recent appointment of Joe Michael to the Wildlife Advisory Committee. His participation will improve the Maryland Horse Council’s ability to better inform our members of DNR intentions with respect to hunting days.

Unfortunately, two Sunday hunting bills slipped through the legislative process and will appear for your signature. SB 472 / HB 406 and SB 473 / HB 432 allow DNR to authorize Sunday hunting in Frederick, Allegany, Washington, and Garrett counties, one for just deer and the other for all species. Residents of those counties are just learning of this unfortunate turn of events and realizing what it will mean for their 2014-2015 outdoor calendars. The bills passed under the pretense of a need to reduce the deer herd in those western counties, despite DNR’s public statement of its desire to increase the herd in parts of this region [DNR 2014-2016 Regulation Concepts, February 19, 2014].

According to an opinion survey conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, VA for DNR and appended to DNR’s Maryland White-tailed Deer Plan 2009-2018, “Opposition exceeds support for deer hunting on Sundays in Maryland among Maryland residents. On the other hand, among deer hunters, a majority support hunting deer on Sundays. Large landowners are like residents in that opposition exceeds support for hunting deer on Sundays.”

Given the undue burden on the 98% of Marylanders who do not hunt, Sunday hunting should not be permitted unless it can be definitively shown that it is a critically essential tool for managing wildlife, and that no other method that preserves safe Sundays is effective.

Therefore, the Maryland Horse Council respectfully requests that you take one of two courses of action:
1.Veto SB 472 / HB 406 and SB 473 / HB 432 with a statement to the effect that DNR is undertaking a study on deer population management to determine the need for Sunday hunting, or
2. Sign SB 472 / HB 406 and SB 473 / HB 432 only after securing a commitment from DNR Secretary Gill that DNR will not authorize the Sunday hunting that the bills permit until after publication of its 2014 Deer Population Management Report, which will have given all the various stakeholders (hikers, mountain bikers, cross- country skiers, bird watchers, equestrians, etc., as well as hunters and farmers) the chance to work out a comprehensive solution to the deer management problem that really works, while preserving safe Sundays.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.


Jane Seigler

cc: Sen. MIller
Del. Busch
Sen. Joan Conway Del. Macintosh Sec. Gill
Ms. Ashley Valis

Monday, April 7, 2014

Trail Riders Action Alert

Via Equestrian Land Conservation Resource:
The multi-year national highway bill, called MAP-21 that authorizes the Federal Highway Administration's Recreational Trails Program (RTP) is set to expire this year. Congress is beginning work on the next highway bill and if RTP is going to continue it will have to be included in that bill.

All recreational riders and trail users are being urged to call their Senators and ask them to sign on to the Recreational Trails Program Dear Colleague letter being circulated this week. The deadline for Senators to sign on is April 9th.

Click here for more info on how to take action.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Annapolis update

The Horse Council has been very busy during this legislative session, with the extraordinary assistance of our new lobbyist, Frank Boston. Our efforts have been primarily focused on trying to prevent the expansion of Sunday hunting. These "Sunday Hunting" bills are usually introduced county-by-county, and they are often "courtesy bills," introduced by the "County Delegation," i.e., all the legislators from the particular county. This means they are very difficult to successfully oppose. The session is not yet over, but we are fairly confident that we have succeeded in Anne Arundel and Harford. Still in play are Calvert, where we are reasonably optimistic, and Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington, where a favorable outcome is much more in doubt.

Here is the testimony submitted today for the House Environmental Matters Committee hearing on the western counties bills:

Testimony of the Maryland Horse Council
before the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee in Opposition to SB 472 and SB 473, Sunday Hunting in Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington Counties

April 2, 2014
The Maryland Horse Council (MHC) strongly reiterates its opposition to expanding Sunday hunting in Maryland, for the reasons expressed in our testimony before this Committee on related Sunday hunting bills.
In particular:
Sunday hunting has not been proven to be significantly effective in managing the deer population. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has agreed to conduct a study this year of the effectiveness of Sunday hunting as a tool of deer population control and its effect on other users of outdoor recreation. Sunday hunting should not be further expanded until DNR has completed this study.
These bills that purport to expand the opportunities to hunt deer are counter to DNR’s own statement that it needs to increase the deer population in Region A (Allegany, Garrett and part of Washington Counties). [DNR 2014-2016 Regulation Concepts, February 19, 2014]
Given the undue burden on the 98% of Marylanders who do not hunt, these bills should not be enacted unless it can be definitively shown that Sunday hunting is a critically essential tool for managing wildlife, and that no other method that preserves safe Sundays is effective.
MHC urges the Committee to report these bills unfavorably, and give all the various stakeholders (hikers, mountain bikers, cross-country skiers, bird watchers, equestrians, etc., as well as hunters and farmers) the chance to work out a global solution to the deer management problem that really works, while preserving safe Sundays.

Respectfully Submitted,
Jane Seigler

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Horse Council comments on MDE proposal governing Erosion and Sediment Control Plans and Stormwater Management Plans

Here are the Horse Council's comments on the Draft Guidance for Agricultural Practices and Structures:

February 10, 2014
To: Brian Clevinger, MDE
Sediment, Stormwater, and Dam Safety Program
Robert Sommers, MDE Secretary
Earl Hance, MDA Secretary
Re: Draft Guidance For Agricultural Practices and Structures DRAFT
Mr. Clevinger,
It has been a pleasure working with Herb Sachs, MDA, and many others on the issues that created the need for this guideline. We spoke to Secretary Sommers about this at last week’s Ag Dinner and have had a number of meetings with Secretary Hance on the topic.
The lack of a definition of agricultural structures was a problem that allowed some counties to require Erosion and Sediment Control plans for site preparation for barns, sheds, and indoor riding arenas. Some of those counties also required that farmers hire civil engineers to stamp site plans even when Soil Conservation District staff were involved in the projects. The costs in many cases were exorbitant and the engineers often had no experience with farm management issues. We applaud MDE for drafting guidelines that will amend the regulation that contradicted state law on the need for Erosion and Sediment Control Plans for agricultural structures.
We also applaud the Department for drafting a model Stormwater Management Plan application that does not require the involvement of civil engineers. The sketch plan required in your model application appears to be well within the abilities of Soil Conservation District staff, which in our view is the appropriate agency to work with farmers on erosion and runoff issues.
Your proposed definition of an agricultural structure is the following:
An Agricultural Structure means a structure built on a farm used to further crop and livestock production and conservation of related soil and water resources. The structure may be used for basic processing of products produced on the farm on which it is located. Basic processing does not change the form of the product, but does include treatment such as cutting, drying, and packing necessary for storing and marketing. Agricultural structures cannot be used for human occupancy, nor are they intended for access by the general public.
This definition states that an agricultural structure must be “used to further crop and livestock production.” Under the provisions of the 2009 Horses as Agriculture statute (Agriculture, sections 2-701(d) and 2-702.1), caring for and training horses and similar activities are clearly defined as agriculture. Some counties might argue
that these activities are not "livestock production" unless exclusively devoted to breeding. Under that interpretation, the definition would exclude most barns, sheds and private riding arenas.
We propose that the definition of an agricultural structure include as an allowed use “keeping and managing livestock.” Horses are classified as livestock in state and federal law, and “keeping and managing” covers the typical activities that take place on horse farms.
Maryland Horse Council understands the rationale behind excluding buildings “intended for access by the general public.” Counties have struggled with the meaning of this restriction in local law, and generally conclude that a building where horses are boarded is not a public use building because each “client” is under contract to have his or her livestock managed at the facility or has a rental agreement to use the livestock housed at the facility. Public use in the horse industry generally refers to stores, show facilities that attract spectators, and racetracks.
Unless the definition of an agricultural structure is amended to include buildings used to keep and manage horses, the horse farms that make up 587,000 acres of the state’s farmland will be required to comply with the same site preparation rules as urban developers. Civil engineers would replace Soil Conservation District staff as the liaison between the farm owners and county government during farm modernization projects, leaving the farm owners less incentive to maintain the Cooperator Agreements that are the foundation Soil Conservation Districts’ positive influence on farms.
Maryland Horse Council encourages MDE to seek input from other sectors of agriculture on this definition as well. The exclusion of many kinds of value added production seems to have no policy rationale. Private wineries, dairies that produce ice cream, and any number of other activities that take place under the roofs of agricultural buildings have the same effect on erosion and sediment loss regardless of the activity. We believe that when the General Assembly exempted agricultural structures from erosion and sediment control plan requirements it envisioned agriculture in broader terms than this definition allows. We see no policy argument in favor of the narrow definition in the draft that has been circulated.
Please contact me or our President, Jane Seigler, if you seek further input from the horse industry on this or related issues.
Steuart Pittman
Legislative Committee Chair, Maryland Horse Council
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Horse Council comments on proposed composting regulations

Here are the comments filed by MHC with the MD Department of the Environment on its proposed new regulations governing composting. Click here for a link to the full text of the draft regs.

February 10, 2014

Ms. Hilary Miller, Deputy Director
Land Management Administration
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Blvd., Suite 610
Baltimore, MD  21230-1719

RE: proposed regulations 26.04.11 Composting Facilities

Dear Ms. Miller:

The Maryland Horse Council (MHC) is a membership-based, umbrella trade association of the entire horse industry in Maryland. Our membership includes horse farms, horse related businesses, individual enthusiasts, and breed, interest and discipline associations. As such, we represent over 30,000 Marylanders who make their living with horses, or just own and love them.

MHC is pleased to submit the following comments regarding the above referenced regulations that are being proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

The proposal would establish a broad and complex new scheme for regulating composting facilities, which - at least in the non-farm context - have been largely unregulated previously. However, agricultural composting has been facilitated and overseen by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the local Soil Conservation Districts for decades, and that history and practice should be used to inform how these new MDE regulations would affect agricultural composting, especially where manure is the primary feedstock.

As we understand it, under MDE’s proposal on-farm composting facilities must be permitted unless:
  1. the composted material is produced and used on-site or at a facility controlled by the same operator, (hereinafter “on-site”) (section .05 B (2)), or 
  2. the composting facility is located on a farm that is required to register with MDE because it uses greater than 5000 square feet “in support of composting,” accepts materials from off-site, and uses that compost on-site (section .05 B (3)), or 
  3. is a Tier 1 (primarily yard waste) or Tier 2 facility (certain other materials including animal manure and bedding) under 5000 square feet “in support of composting,” that complies with certain specified general environmental standards and whose windrows or piles are lower than 9 feet (Section .05 B (04)). It is not clear whether this particular provision also includes horse farms that compost animal manure and bedding, or whether it is intended to refer only to non-farm Tire 1 and Tier 2 facilities. This confusion is also implicated in the provisions of section .11 (General Permits)

MHC respectfully submits that the proposed regulations fail to take into account the unique characteristics of composting as it typically occurs on horse farms. 

  • Many horse farms compost the manure and bedding that is removed from barns and sheds during regular cleaning. This material is produced on-farm, although the straw, wood shavings or other bedding material is typically purchased off-site. Although the proposed regulations state that manure including bedding is a Type 2 feedstock, they do not make clear whether use of bedding that is purchased off-site would preclude application of exemptions for feedstocks produced on-site. The regulations should be clarified to state that animal manure that contains animal bedding used on-site (regardless of its source) constitutes a feedstock that is produced on-site.

  • According to NRCS information, a 23 horse operation will use an 80’ x 60’(4,800 sq ft) pad for 180 days composting capacity. Thus, any operation with 24 or more stalled horses will require a pad of greater than 5,000 square feet. There are dozens, if not scores of horse farms in Maryland that meet this threshold. The proposed regulations should be amended to increase the 5,000 square foot limit to accommodate larger horse operations.

  • The proposed regulations do not discuss what is perhaps the most typical model for horse farm composting operations, i.e., only on-farm generated materials (manure and bedding) are composted, and the resulting compost is sold or given away to other local farms, residences, landscapers, etc. The regulations should be amended to make clear that composting facilities that use only materials generated on-site, but distribute them off-site are exempt from the permitting requirements as long as they are in compliance with applicable MDA regulations.

  • In some cases, horse farms take in manure from other farms not owned or controlled by them, who do not have the capacity to compost their own manure. These facilities may distribute the final composted material to other farms, residences or landscape companies. The regulations should be amended to increase the 5,000 square foot limit for these facilities to, for example, 40,00 square feet as consistent with the Forest Conservation Act, and exempt them from the permitting requirement as long as they are in compliance with applicable MDA regulations. 

Composted horse manure is a valuable and as yet under-utilized resource. According to a 2010 equine census,* Maryland is home to 79,100 equine animals housed at 16,000 locations with 188,000 acres devoted strictly to horses.  At an average rate of 55 pounds of manure excreted per horse per day,** Maryland’s horses produce an estimated 1,443,575,000 lbs of manure per year. Horse manure is a good substrate to use for compost.  First, it’s drier than other livestock feces, therefore it’s easier to transport from one location to another.  Second, it has a 5:1:2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium** and thus is relatively balanced in nutrients when it’s applied as a soil amendment.  Third, when the feces include animal bedding products such as sawdust or wood shavings it is close to an ideal 25:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. It is in the best interest not only of horse farm owners, but of all Maryland citizens and of our environment to ensure that this product is recycled to its highest and best use, by minimizing barriers to that use. Unreasonable restrictions on manure composting and distribution of the composted end product as a soil amendment will only result in more manure ending up in landfills, rather than benefitting our soils, crops, gardens and roadsides. 

MHC appreciates the opportunity to comment on these proposed regulations, and urges MDE to adopt the recommendations set forth here.

Respectfully submitted,
Jane Seigler

*  MASS (Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service). 2002. Maryland Equine: Results of the 2002 Maryland Equine Census. Annapolis, MD: Maryland Department of Agriculture.
**  Lawrence, L., J.R. Bicudo, and E. Wheeler.  2003.  Horse manure characteristics literature and database review.  In Proc. International Anim., Ag. Food Processing Wastes Symp., Research Triangle Park, NC, Oct. 12-15., 277-284.  St. Joseph, MI: Am. Soc. Ag. and Biol. Engineers.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Congress passes Farm Bill

Congress has [finally] passed the federal Farm Bill, which contains a number of provisions important to horse people. The President is expected to sign it. Click here for an analysis from the American Horse Council.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Vet Medicine Mobility Act passes US Senate; now goes to House

Via the Equiery and the American Horse Council.
In a post last year, we reported on changes in the way the Drug Enforcement Administration was interpreting provisions in the Controlled Substances Act, essentially making it illegal for vets to keep on their trucks the drugs necessary to provide routine or emergency care to horses. A bill attempting to correct this situation is now moving through Congress. From the American Horse Council:
On Wednesday, January 8, the United States Senate passed, the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act (S. 1171), sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS). The bill was passed unanimously without amendment and has been sent to the House of Representatives where it awaits further action.
The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to clarify that veterinarians are allowed to transport, administer and dispense controlled substances and medications outside of their registered offices and hospitals. It would ensure equine veterinarians have the ability provide mobile or ambulatory services in the field to the horse community.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently changed its interpretation of provisions within the CSA regarding what veterinarians may carry with them and has stated it now believes it is illegal for veterinarians to transport controlled substances and medications for use outside of their registered locations, such as an animal hospital.
Equine veterinarians often provide mobile services and treat horses at farms, training facilities, horse shows, or racetracks. In many cases it is not possible for owners to bring their horses to a clinic or hospital. For this reason, veterinarians have for years carried any medications they may have needed with them secured in their vehicle. However, their ability to do this and provide care to horses in the field is now in jeopardy.
This legislation would allow vets to continue to treat horses as they always have. The AHC supports this bill and hopes the House will pass the bill quickly.