North Yarmouth selectmen mull amending hunting ban

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The Board of Selectmen decided Tuesday to seek the Recreation Commission’s opinion about allowing some degree of hunting at Old Town House Park.

The commission is scheduled to meet on Monday, Aug. 2.

Ideas suggested at the workshop, attended by selectmen, commission members and hunters, included requiring park hunters to obtain a town permit and allowing turkey hunting in the spring and fall and deer hunting in November, both from sunrise to noon.

Tuesday’s discussion followed the rejection by voters at Town Meeting last month of a petition-generated warrant article that called for opening public lands for all types of recreation, including hunting.

Administrative Assistant Marnie Diffin said Tuesday’s workshop was the result of the board’s sense that the warrant article might have passed had it addressed hunting specifically at Old Town House Park.

The approximately 60-acre park off Route 9 represents roughly 25 percent of the town’s public lands. Hunting is allowed on the other 75 percent.

In September 2008, selectmen voted unanimously to permit hunting at the park, subject to easement and deed restrictions. But the panel reversed its decision a year later, voting 4-1 to ban all hunting at the park.

Selectmen voted unanimously in January to allow weekday turkey hunting at the park this May, echoing a recommendation by the Recreation Commission. But the vote didn’t do enough to appease residents who want hunting restrictions relaxed on all land purchased by the town for public use.

Proponents of hunting at the park say hunters have as much right to recreate there as people who go there for other activities, and that banning hunting disenfranchises them. Other advocates say hunting in the park helps to thin out a deer herd that contributes to the spread of Lyme disease and causes motor vehicle collisions.

Resident George Fogg, who helped gather petition signatures for the warrant question and whose wife had Lyme disease, has said that deer learn within 24 hours about every piece of land that hunters can’t access, and that they flock to those areas during hunting season.

Fogg said he learned that from Judy Camuso, assistant regional wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, who spoke to the Board of Selectmen in September 2008 about what can occur in places where hunting is banned.

The area’s deer population at the time was deemed higher than the goal recommended by a public working group on big game. A balance was necessary to minimize human health risks from vehicle collisions and Lyme diseases while maintaining a healthy deer herd, Camuso said.

Opponents of hunting at the park say that some people feel unsafe being there when hunters are around, and that hunting is already allowed on most public properties.

“To allow hunting at Old Town House Park is, in effect, prohibiting people from using the park,” Recreation Commission Chairwoman Jenny Tuemmler said, “because no matter how safe the hunters are, there is a perception that if someone goes in a park where there are hunters … it’s a more dangerous place to go.”

With other places in town for hunters to go to, she asked, “why is this park so important?”

Selectman Mark Verrill said he thinks  a compromise would be fair to hunters, who “pay taxes as well.”

He added that with a permit required to hunt in the park, “then we’d know who’s in there.”

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

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.