Reduction In Time For Firearms Hunting In Preserves Approved By Township Council

James Kuligowski, chair of the Trails Advisory Committee, Fran Varacalli, the township’s open space consultant and Randy Jones, chair of the open Space Advisory Committee, left to right, at the July 11 Township Council meeting.

A proposal to reduce the amount of time hunting is allowed on two township nature preserves this year was adopted July 11 by the Township Council.

As a result of the vote, hunters using firearms on the Negri Nepote Native Grassland Preserve and the Griggstown Native Grassland Preserve/Bunker Hill Environmental Center will 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.

Last year, only firearm hunters were allowed on those properties at all during that hunting season. In earlier years, non-hunters were allowed on the properties until 1:30 p.m., and hunters only after that.

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.The half-hour buffer was seen as a way to decrease interactions between hunters and hikers.

The proposal came from the Open Space Advisory Committee, which approved the plan at its June 20 meeting.

As happened at the open space meeting, the council’s decision only came after a long discussion.

The Open Space Committee wasn’t the only committee weighing in on the question of the 2017 hunting season. Also voting on it were the Trails Advisory Committee and the Wildlife Control Committee, both of which chose to continue last year’s policy.

At the July 11 council meeting, the proposals were presented to council members by Fran Varacalli, the township’s open space consultant; Randy Jones, chair of the open space committee, and James Kuligowski, chair of the trails committee.

Kuligowski told the council that the committee voted to retain the same hours for firearms hunting because “it is confusing to have firearms and hikers on at the same time. We also discussed that it is reasonable to close some trails during firearms season because there are plenty of alternatives in the area to do hiking.”

“There are plenty of alternatives in the township and the surrounding area,” he said.

Varacalli said she’s also been told by hunters that some walkers did not leave the trails by the assigned times.

“The signage is somewhat confusing because the days are set by the state and it’s very complicated,” she said. “There’s not a simple way to effectively communicate that to the public.”

In response to questions from Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, Varacalli said that last year, 10 deer were culled during firearms season from Negri Nepote and 20 from Griggstown, out of 168 deer taken during the entire season throughout the township.

Councilwoman Shanel Robinson (D-At Large) said she wasn’t comfortable with the shared time concept proposed by the Open Space Committee because hikers might lose track of time and get caught on the trails when the hunters were there.

Bill Connell, a member of the Open Space Committee who was not at the June meeting, said he disagreed with the committee’s recommendation.

“A little inconvenience helps the greater good,” he said. “I would not want to be anywhere near a gun or a bow and arrow and worrying whether someone is following instructions.”

John Loos of Fisher Drive led the effort to get the Open Space Committee to recommend the change. He told the council that “we’re your constituents who want to use these properties.”

“There are walkers, wildlife photographers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and some of these activities can only be done in the winter time,” he said “If it snows on Monday and your next opportunity to get on the proper is the next Sunday, you in all likelihood are not going o go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, because you only do that when the snow is fresh.”

In arguing for the time reduction, Pat Leonard of Old Georgetown Road, a former member of the Trails Advisory Committee, said that the preserves are “beautiful properties that we would all like to enjoy. I think it’s unfair that we cannot enjoy it for that time.”

Roberta Scudder of Livingston Avenue told the council that she values her leisure time as a walker, birder and snowshoer.

“I’m very glad to hear there is a possibility that there will be extended time during the day to help me enjoy my avocations,” she said. “Hunters are certainly important to cul the deer population, but that’s also their avocation, and they’re getting plenty of time (to enjoy it).”

Township Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1) said that he supported the Open Space proposal.

“This does make an assumption that the non-hunters are reasonable people and stay out during the gun hours, which may not be a valid assumption,” he said.

Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) said his main concern is safety, and that he wanted more time to study the issue. He was told by Vornlocker that the Open Space Committee needed an answer that night to be able to prepare the land and signage for hunting season.

Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) said that he leaned toward the system used last year.

In speaking against the Open Space Committee’s recommendation, Mayor Phil Kramer said that there are other places in the township where people can walk the trails.

“It is my opinion that we are still stewards of the land, and we should continue the program as it is and at least give it another year,” he said. “We need to control the deer population.”

Varacalli told the council that while she does not favor either proposal, she is “so nervous between November and February. It is very nerve-wracking to worry about whether people are on the property.”

After Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) moved to accept the Open Space Committee proposal, Vassanella suggested an amendment that would authorize some type of “human mechanism” to make sure the half-hour buffers were being adhered to.

Vornlocker told him that the police department does not have the manpower to do that, and Chase added that most of the trails can not accommodate vehicles.

“We don’t have the vehicles and everything else necessary,” Vornlocker said. “It goes beyond just putting someone in a uniform at the trail head.”

Before the vote, Kramer said he believed that mixing hours between recreation use and hunting “is dangerous.” He also said that a deer could cause a fatal auto accident.

The hunting program, he said, “is part of the price of open space.”

In the end, only Kramer and Robinson voted against the proposal.


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