County drops new hunting rules

Island County Commissioners decided to stay with the status quo Monday and refused to adopt new hunting rules that have been controversial with both hunters and homeowners.

Commissioner Mike Shelton tried to get the new rules passed during this week’s commissioners’ meeting, but the new ordinance failed to get the support of Commissioners Mac McDowell and William Byrd.

It was a surprising end to the long debate about the new hunting rules, which would have shortened deer season by six weeks on county land and created a 50-yard buffer zone in Deer Lagoon, a popular waterfowl hunting destination. Six public hearings on Whidbey and Camano islands were held on hunting, and those meetings came amid several attempts at writing new county rules for hunting and the discharge of firearms.

Shelton was steadfast until the end in his support for the new regulations.

“My belief is public property is for all users. We should not eliminate access to one group,” Shelton said.

He made the first motion to pass the ordinance containing the revised rules, but was answered with silence.

“Motion dies for lack of a second,” Shelton said.

McDowell and Byrd both agreed there were sufficient concerns and disagreement among residents about the new rules.

“I don’t want to pass something that we would have to correct again and again,” Byrd said.

People on both sides of the hunting issue have felt strongly about the new rules, and most recently, the county was threatened with a lawsuit by Deer Lagoon residents if the county allowed hunting in that area.

“After six public hearings, they (two sides) are no closer together or willing to compromise,” McDowell said.

Hunters in Island County must continue to follow the old rules, which includes Sept. 15 though Dec. 31 deer season, and allows hunting in Deer Lagoon. Hunting will also remain legal on a small portion of Greenbank Farm, near Kettles Trail, and in Goss Lake Woods and Camano Ridge.

“This ordinance appears to have made no one happy,” Shelton said.

“Both sides are entrenched. Without the ordinance, we have not addressed the safety issue,” he added, his frustration obvious.

Residents near Deer Lagoon have complained about the noise of hunting near their growing South Whidbey neighborhood. Homeowners there, and elsewhere, have also raised concerns about hunting as the population of Island County continues to grow.

Shelton, however, said he believes that car-verses-deer accidents are more of a safety issue than hunting.

“Clearly density is an issue. My belief is that we ought to encourage hunting where the property is large enough to hunt safely,” he said.

“The state issues a second deer tag for Island County, which allows some hunters to kill two deer here. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the resource. I believe that says something about how many deer there are on the island,” Shelton said.

Shelton also pointed out the lack of hunting accidents in recent years.

“We have to give credit in terms of safety the hunters. There have been no reported hunting injuries,” he said.

Commissioners pointed out that hunting cannot be eliminated because of noise complaints. That has to be addressed at the state level.

And absent new county rules, enforcement agents from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife will continue to be involved with hunting complaints along with support from the Island County Sheriff’s office and the Washington State Patrol.

The no-vote on the new rules seemed to please few.

“We are back to square one. I wish, with regards to Deer Lagoon, they had enacted a moratorium,” Sheriff Mike Hawley said.

It may not be the end of the hunting debate.

Byrd says he hopes the county will be able to write a hunting ordinance that can be adopted before the next hunting season begins in September.

Foes of the new ordinance who live near Deer Lagoon saw Monday’s decision as a victory of sorts.

Last week, an attorney representing the 400 residents of Useless Bay Colony threatened to sue the county for failing to follow procedures outlined the state’s Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, when it rewrote its hunting rules and began to hold public hearings.

“This decision may forestall our legal action, but it continues in the political arena,” said Paul Thompson, a Useless Bay Colony resident.

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