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County to hold more hearings on proposed hunting restrictions

Get ready for more shots to be fired in the long-running battle over hunting on Whidbey Island. The Island County commissioners are expected to set a date for more public hearings on new hunting rules at the board's meeting on Monday.

Hunting on county land has been highly controversial in recent years.

People who live near hunting areas have complained about the noise associated with hunting, and have highlighted even greater concerns over the safety of people who live in neighborhoods near popular hunting sports. Outdoorsmen, however, have said hunting is a part of Whidbey Island's culture and history, and hunters should also have access to public lands like any other recreational group.

More than 100 people packed a public hearing on an earlier version of the hunting rules in September, and in October the county decided to rewrite those draft regulations.

The rules are expected to restrict or limit hunting on county-owned land, including public properties at Deer Lagoon in the Useless Bay area of South Whidbey, Goss Lake Woods, Kettles Trails near Coupeville and Camano Ridge on Camano Island.

Commissioners discussed a new ordinance on hunting during their meeting earlier this week.

On Monday, the commissioners are expected to pick a date for a public hearing on the newest look at the rules; the hearing is expected sometime in mid-December.

The debate has been highly charged from the start, though attempts have been made to diffuse the divisive issue.

At one point, in early January, parks superintendent Teri Arnold polled the commissioners via e-mail to ask if they wanted to form a citizens advisory group, made up of hunting and hiking clubs, plus state wildlife officials and representatives from affected county departments, to tackle the issue. Commissioners said no, thanks.

The proposed hunting regulations have since turned out to be the most tumultuous topic faced by the county commissioners this year, rivaling the ongoing public outcry over new rules for farming.

Letters, e-mails, petitions and other correspondence on the hunting controversy have been pouring into the county offices in Coupeville.

The comments now fill five thick files. Included in the stacks are emotional appeals to commissioners, plus blunt statements that some might see as personal attacks, like one from a Langley woman who criticized a commissioner's pro-hunting position as something that would be politically popular in Eastern Washington. She encouraged him to move there and run for office.

In the largest file -- an almost 4-inch-thick ream of letters,

e-mails and petitions -- voices for hunting restrictions outnumbered those who favored hunting on the Island by a 5-to-1 margin.

That's not including a 132-page petition from Useless Bay Colony and a petition signed by nearly 400 people also wanting a hunting ban near Deer Lagoon. Also in the file: A 42-page petition against hunting at the county's Kettles Trail property.

Most recently, the board of the Useless Bay Golf and Country Club announced it had passed a resolution banning hunting on its property near Deer Lagoon.

The golf club owns a large portion of the dike near Deer Lagoon where Diking District No. 1 commissioners had authorized hunting and shooting. The Useless Bay Golf and Country Club bought the property in December 1999.

The county is now searching for venues large enough to hold the public hearings. One hearing will be held on Whidbey; the other on Camano Island.

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