As the last of summer's stifling humidity is forced out by cool fall air and the leaves begin to change, Virginians and the tourists who wish to experience the beauty of the Commonwealth flock to our natural spaces. The precious outdoor weekends of autumn beckon us by the millions.
Some go to catch a glimpse of our rich diversity of native wildlife. Some share time in the outdoors with their companion animals -- exercising their dogs or riding their trail horses. Others hike or mountain bike the trails. Our world is increasingly fast-paced, filled with background noise, constant communication, and intrusive anxiety. Time spent in the peacefulness of nature is freeing.
We need to keep it that way.
The demographics of those who venture outdoors have shifted steadily in the past few decades. The latest statistics from U.S. Fish and Wildlife show that hunting has been declining while wildlife watching is on the rise. At last count, wildlife watchers comprised 36 percent of Virginia's population, while hunters made up only 7 percent.
These changes only underscore the importance of Virginia's longstanding tradition against hunting on Sundays, which balances the interests of all outdoor recreationists.
The Humane Society of the United States has more than 300,000 supporters in Virginia. Along with other outdoor enthusiasts and landowners, we believe that Sunday is a day to enjoy nature without concern about guns and arrows. No one wants to be forced to dress children and pets in fluorescent orange just to walk on their own farm or on the trails of our public lands. Property owners don't want their Sundays interrupted by hunters knocking at the door to request access to their land.
Autumn weekends in the outdoors are for us all to enjoy.
Keeping the prohibition on Sunday hunting has important economic consequences too. Our state is a national leader in wildlife tourism programs, and wildlife watchers spend big here -- according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife statistics, more than $960 million annually. They outspend hunters more than 2 to 1. The statistics are even more dramatic for out-of-staters. Nonresident wildlife watchers spend more than 14 times what nonresident hunters do. Those numbers don't even include the millions more that horseback riders, bikers and hikers pump into our economy, making a hunting-free day extremely valuable.
Nearly every year, the tiny minority of Virginians who selfishly crave a seventh day for hunting find a political ally in the Virginia legislature. But thankfully, every time a bill is introduced to put hunters ahead of everyone else on Sundays, it fails. Hunters already have six days a week. One day for other outdoor users seems barely fair, if that.
The mere introduction of Sunday hunting legislation is an insult to the overwhelming majority Virginians who enjoy spending time outdoors and to the tourists who come here in search of tranquility. These people are no small part of the economy. Their values are ascendant and cannot be ignored. It is time for the Virginia General Assembly to finally lay the issue to rest and focus on the important issues facing the commonwealth.