ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Thanks to the work of two novice hunters — young sisters from the Eastern Shore — Maryland hunters may soon be allowed to wear bright pink safety gear.
Before taking a hunter safety class in October 2016, sisters Paige and Brooke Simonsen, from Easton, stocked up on pink hunting clothes. Then, they found out that Maryland law did not allow hunters to wear any color besides blaze orange.
“Our instructor mentioned that other states have pink and we only have orange, and we wanted to change that so we went to Senator (Addie) Eckardt,” Paige, 12, said.
The legislation, which passed in both chambers Monday night, adds “daylight fluorescent pink” as an alternative color for hunters. The legislation is based in part on the Simonsen family’s research.
Part of that research, which made its way into testimony, included a blog post referencing a European Union study that found forestry workers were safer wearing pink than orange. But the post — and its references to a “major study” that included “cognition tests and adrenaline measurements” — turned out to be an April Fool’s joke by the Stihl chainsaw company.
The Stihl company confirmed in a tweet that the April 1, 2016, blog entry was a joke.
Eckardt, R–Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, said she didn’t read the blog post until a Capital News Service reporter showed it to her.
“Yep, it’s all bogus,” Eckardt said March 27, while looking at the post. “To me it’s immaterial. It wasn’t a part of what we were all about.”
The joke study did not appear in the bill’s legislative analysis and the senator did not use the study in her own testimony, although she accompanied the girls to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, where it was heard.
Vice Chair Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said he was unaware the testimony was in part based on an April Fool’s Day joke, but said the information doesn’t change the premise of the bill.
“The idea that using pink to stand out against green still makes sense,” he said. “Reading each piece of testimony…is beyond our ability to do.”
Michael Simonsen called the mistake “a learning experience for the entire family” but said he is proud of his daughters for participating in the legislative process.
“It is so important to share, that Paige and Brooke used multiple sources in their research and it is unfortunate that this one used, was not legitimate,” he wrote in an email to Capital News Service. “They will want to continue researching everything, even more thoroughly, particularly on the other six states … who have already approved daylight fluorescent pink as an additional safety color choice.”
It’s no joke, however, that Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Virginia, New York and Wisconsin allow hunters to wear pink.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources wrote in a letter to lawmakers that “there has been no nationally recognized study completed … on the effectiveness of this daylight fluorescent pink as a safety color.”
The department also noted that while there is a standard for hunter orange, none exists for pink, even in other states. Maryland’s bill leaves the definition of “daylight fluorescent pink” to the department.
When the Simonsens began looking into the topic during the fall of 2016, they had no idea that Eckardt, who represents the Simonsens’ region, has had an interest in pink since long before the sisters were born.
“Since I campaigned in 1994, I chose pink. I was outside the box. Everybody said don’t use that color,” the senator said. “I said … ‘I will do it the way I want to do it because I want to have fun.'”
Eckardt, a former psychiatric nurse, decided to use a bit of operant conditioning, she said, by associating herself with the color for more than two decades. She’s known for wearing pink on the Senate floor almost every day.
Paige and Brooke, 9, noticed the pink decorations in her office right away, but Eckardt contemplated the potential backlash of sponsoring the bill.
“My initial response was ‘Oh my goodness, I can just see it now – she doesn’t have anything better to do than to promote pink in an election year,” Eckardt said. “I was a little nervous about that.”
Brooke, whose favorite color is green, and Paige, who likes light pink, said their bill has little to do with being chic.
“We don’t like to think of it as a fashion statement,” Brooke said. “We just want it to be a safer choice and maybe another choice, but we’re not trying to eliminate fluorescent orange.”
The sisters pointed out that it is safer than orange for people like Matthew Hurst, a family friend who hunts and is colorblind.
“I have a really hard time picking up the fluorescent orange in the fall when the trees change, especially with the small amount you’re required to wear,” said Hurst, who also testified before lawmakers. “The blaze pink stands out more in the natural environment.”
When Talbot County, Maryland, hunter Leslie Milby first heard about the bill, she thought it might be another attempt to “pink it and shrink it” — manufacturers’ strategy of targeting women through less durable, brightly colored clothing.
“At first when I heard (of the bill) I kind of rolled my eyes because I was picturing bright pink camouflage,” she said. “As long as the gear is as tough as a man’s there’s no reason I wouldn’t support it.”
Now that the bill has passed, it won’t just be girls in the Simonsen family wearing the new color.
“I’m definitely going to wear fluorescent pink,” Michael Simonsen said. “I’m their dad but more important I’m going to be their hunting partner so the thing is I want to be seen.”
The girls occasionally shoot clay pigeons and said they plan to go hunting soon. In Maryland, children younger than 16 can hunt with an adult.
The girls said last month that they planned to share the joy of passing a bill with friends and classmates.
“We would be really happy if blaze pink became a color because we would be known for that,” Brooke said in March. “Sometimes it’s just nice to be known for making a law in Maryland.”
The law, Senate bill 341 and House bill 1118, will go into effect July 1.