Open Space Committee Recommends Reduced Hunting Hours At Township Preserves

The Open Space Advisory Committee voted June 20 to recommend the Township Council reduce the hours that hunting is allowed on the Negri Nepote and Griggstown native grassland preserves.

The Open Space Advisory Committee will recommend the Township Council this year reduce the hours that hunting is allowed on the township’s two nature preserves.

The decision followed a spirited discussion among the committee members, and came after several residents asked for the change.

The committee will recommend to the Township Council that firearm hunting on the Negri Nepote Native Grassland Preserve and the Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve/Bunker Hill Environmental Center be restricted to from sunrise to 9 a.m., then from 3 p.m. to sunset during part of hunting Season 3, which runs roughly from late November to early February.

Season 1, which starts in September, is for bow-hunters only, and Season 2, which runs for about 10 days in December, is for firearms and bow-hunters.

The change will mean that the public can use the trails during that hunting Season 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Currently, only firearm hunters are allowed on those properties during that time period.

Previously, the public was allowed on the trails in the mornings, and hunters were allowed in the afternoons. The change was put into place during the last hunting season, and residents who use the trails on the preserves have repeatedly asked that the hours be changed back, but to no avail.

That changed at the June 20 meeting, but it didn’t come easily.

Former committee member John Loos of Fisher Drive lead the charge, telling the committee that the change meant that people who wanted to walk the trails or snowshoe in the winter were only allowed to use it about 20 percent of the time it was open.

What he and his fellow residents were asking for, Loos said, was balance.

“For a long time, the hunters weren’t completely happy because they didn’t have complete access, and walkers and snow-shoers and cross-country skiers and equestrians were not happy because they didn’t have access all the time,” he said. “I think finding a balance is the way to go.”

Committee member Bob Puskas, a farmer and a hunter, said the Township Council changed the hours last year because it “decided that it would be more prudent to say when firearm season is in, just close it.”

“The council I think needs to hear from you about balance,” Loos said. “There’s competing issues in this township.”

Loos suggested allowing hunting from sunrise to 9:30 a.m., then again from 3 p.m. to sunset.

Loos also suggested changing the signage at the preserves to make it more clear when hunting would be allowed, but Puskas said that people regularly ignore the signs.

Jane McCarty of Coppermine Road said that she in the past enjoyed being able to go out on the preserves for a part of every day of the week.

“As it was, this past season, you couldn’t go in certain parts of the properties at any times of the day,” she said.

McCarty also said the signs were confusing, and said there should be maps at the sites to show just where hunting is allowed.

“Those are important,” she said. “They need to know which ones are no hunting zones.”

“I was just hoping that we could go back to the time when we all enjoyed the property,” said Patricia Leonard of Old Georgetown Road.

“Years ago, it was a very simple sign that you did not need someone there to interpret whether you should be on the property or not,” Leonard said. “I know the wildlife control committee suggested before 9:30 a.m. and after 1:30 p.m., and that would probably be something that would let us all use the property and enjoy it. The signage needs to be so that the public can see it and understand it.”

“Please consider changing it so that we can all enjoy the property,” Leonard said.

Loos noted that the number of deer culled last season was down, to which Township Manager Robert Vornlocker responded that deer counts throughout the state were down.

“You want less deer taken,” Puskas said. “That means you program’s working.”

“This is a matter of balance, where you’re reserving this property almost exclusively for hunting, and the number of hunting permits is a tiny fraction of the population of this town and of the people who use that for non-hunting purposes,” said Michael Bell of Coppermine Road. “Striking that balance is what we’re after.”

Committee member John Herrling said that after looking at the number of deer taken in that area in the morning hours, letting non-hunters onto the properties between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. would not have a significant effect on the total deer culling.

Vornlocker pointed out that hunters don’t always catch the deer after it’s been shot. He said they sometime have to track them for a while, so the hunters may not be gone when the non-hunters come into teh preserves.

“It’s not just cut and clear, at 9, everybody isn’t just up and out,” he said.

Committee member Christopher Williams noted that changing the hours “was an experimental program,” and that he’d like to adjust the times so people can use the trails.

“How are you going to stop people from going all over?” Puskas asked. “Signs don’t work.”

“If they don’t work there, they don’t work anywhere,” Williams said. “We experimented with your (plan), I think we should experiment with this.”

Williams then made a motion that hunting be banned at the Negri Nepote preserve from the area of the parking lot to an area about 100 feet away from a pond, for a total of about 30 acres.

The motion failed, with Herrling and member John Moon saying they voted “no” because the area wasn’t large enough.

Herrling then made a motion to increase the prohibited area to 60 acres, but that idea faltered when Vornlocker noted that the area would have to be surveyed to know where to put the signs.

Herrling then suggested restricting it by time, proposing allowing hunting before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m. for both Negri Nepote and Griggstown.

Vornlocker then reiterated his concern that hunters and non-hunters would overlap, which could lead to issues. He suggested that non-hunters be kept off the properties until 9:30 a.m., with hunting ending at 9 a.m., and then leave at 2:30 p.m., with hunting resuming at 3 p.m.

Member Bob LaCorte, who voted “no” on the first motion, said that he would have “no problem” with establishing time restrictions.

LaCorte then said he wanted to hear from a hunter, and Puskas was happy to oblige.

Puskas said he liked the program that was instituted last year.

“The public can walk there on Sundays,” he said. “There’s other places in town they can walk” on the days when non-hunters are banned from the preserves.

“As a hunter, during firearms season, I would close it completely,” he said.

“We’re making a proposal here that will not have a big impact on the hunters, but will have an impact” on people who use the trails for recreation, Herrling said.

Herrling’s motion was amended to include Vornlocker’s suggestion, and it passed with three dissenters, LaCorte, Puskas and Cecile MacIvor.


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