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Showdown looms over hunting in North Yarmouth; selectmen OK May turkey hunt

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Showdown looms over hunting in North Yarmouth; selectmen OK May turkey hunt

NORTH YARMOUTH — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday evening to allow weekday turkey hunting this May at Old Town House Park.

The board’s decision echoed a recommendation by the Recreation Commission earlier this month, but doesn't go far enough to appease residents who want Town Meeting to relax hunting restrictions on all land purchased by the town for public use.

The roughly 60-acre park off Route 9 includes about 30 percent of the town’s public lands. Hunting is permitted on the other 70 percent.

In September 2008 selectmen voted unanimously to allow hunting at the park – to the extent allowed by deeds and easements. But there is a deed restriction on part of the property, the so-called Nanovic parcel in the western portion of the park, Administrative Assistant Marnie Diffin said last week.

A portion on the eastern end has a conservation easement dictating that the town could decide whether to permit hunting. The deed for the piece in between does not mention hunting, Diffin said. As a result, hunting was permitted on two of the three pieces.

“The Recreation Commission, by charter, is responsible for the oversight of the recreation areas,” Diffin said. “They have been steadfast in their conversation about Old Town House Park. They do not want hunting there. They think it’s a safety issue ... They think that of all the lands in the town, there are other places to hunt; this is not one of them.”

The commission continued to oppose hunting at the park, and last Sept. 15 the Board of Selectmen agreed, voting 4-1 to ban hunting in all the park, with Selectmen Paul Napolitano opposed.

Selectman Anne Graham, who made the motion to not allow hunting anywhere in the park, noted last week that hunting is allowed on 70 percent of public land, but that “the hunters want all the lands allowed for hunting. And some of us have a difficult time with that.”

Hunting petition

The Sept. 15, 2009, vote prompted resident and hunter Paul Hodgetts to start a petition to place a question overturning the decision on this June’s Town Meeting warrant. The questions asks whether all publicly purchased land should “be open for all recreation including hunting in North Yarmouth as meets the regulations of the state of Maine?”

With help from fellow residents like George Fogg, the petition garnered more than enough signatures to send the question to Town Meeting.

Fogg said last week that under state law, only the state can ban hunting. He referred to a section of state law which notes in part that “a municipality or political subdivision of the state may not enact any ordinance, law or rule regulating the hunting, trapping or fishing for any species of fish or wildlife.”

However, Lee Kanter, a deer and moose specialist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, noted on Tuesday that a town can control firearm discharge.

Diffin said North Yarmouth has a shotguns-only ordinance. Shotguns do not shoot as far as guns or high-powered rifles, according to Fogg, who taught hunter safety for several years.

Judy Camuso, assistant regional wildlife biologist with the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife department, attended the Sept. 16, 2008, meeting to speak about what can happen in areas where hunting is prohibited. She said on Tuesday that at the time, the deer population in the area was higher than the goal recommended by a public working group on big game.

“There’s a sort of balance that we try to reach to minimize human health risks and still maintain a healthy deer herd,” she said, referring to issues such as motor vehicle/deer collisions and cases of Lyme disease. “Back then, the deer population was estimated to be above what our population goals for the area were, but I don’t know what they are right now. We’ve had a couple of hard winters since then.”

Different approaches

Diffin noted that one reason residents were upset about the board’s September 2009 decision was that when the town acquired the non-restricted portions of the park, “they felt that it had been represented at Town Meeting that hunting would be allowed.”

Late last year, resident Tim Lambert asked selectmen for permission to trap at the park, Diffin said. The board sent the matter to the Recreation Commission, which recommended Lambert be allowed to use up to six traps out of view of the park’s trails for a December trial on the non-Nanovic parcels; the board agreed with that recommendation, Diffin said.

Don Smith, an avid hunter, approached the Board of Selectmen about allowing turkey hunting in the spring on the same grounds that it allowed trapping, since it was for a specific purpose with a specific method. Smith died unexpectedly afterward.

Debating the matter at its Jan. 4 meeting, the Recreation Commission voted 3-2 to recommend the Board of Selectmen allow a spring turkey hunt in May, from sunrise to noon, in the two areas of the park where hunting is allowed, Diffin said.

Graham, a pediatric nurse practitioner, said she tends to fall on the side of safety. “The individuals who are for hunting call me anti-hunting,” she said. “… I’m not anti-hunting; I’m pro-safety.”

She added that the park is a popular area for dog walkers, bird watchers and playing soccer.

“I think that there are places that are good for (hunting), and I think if you do it safely, that’s fine,” Graham said.

Hodgetts said he thinks the park can accommodate hunting and non-hunting uses, particularly with early morning being an optimal time to hunt, rather than later when more people are around.

“If there are people in here, we’re not coming in here to hunt, anyway,” he said. “Why are you going to hunt if you have people walking around with dogs?”

Hodgetts said he is concerned that the ban at the park could spread to other town properties. He noted that his petition, which addresses that concern, does not cover gifts, “because if someone gives the town a gift, they have a right to put deed restrictions on it saying ‘no hunting,’ and we’re not against that.”

Diffin said she thinks the issue raised by the petition question is not so much about hunting, but rather about setting policy uses for public land.

“This is a broader question (than) whether you can just hunt at Old Town House Park,” she said. “It is how to represent to the people what the uses are for that property forever. Because forever is a really long time.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.