NORTH YARMOUTH — Voters defeated a question at Town Meeting on Saturday that would have opened public lands for all types of recreation, including hunting.
They also approved the town’s $2.1 million fiscal 2011 municipal budget.
The recreation question was triggered by a petition filed by resident and hunter Paul Hodgetts, who opposed a 4-1 vote by the Board of Selectmen last September to ban hunting in all of Old Town House Park. The Recreation Commission said hunting should not be allowed there for safety reasons.
The Board of Selectmen vote overturned a unanimous September 2008 decision that allowed hunting in the park to the degree allowed by deeds and easements.
Resident Kristi Wright, representing the Recreation Commission, on Saturday said the group met the previous Monday and approved a statement 4-1 that recommended voting against the warrant article.
“The broad scope of this article takes away the discretion and judgment of the Recreation Commission to advise, and the selectmen to determine, as they consider the appropriate activities for public lands in North Yarmouth,” Wright said, reading from the statement.
She said she would not support the article because of the words “all recreation.”
“That, I think, opens up a whole can of worms. … If we have all recreation available at all public lands, that means we could have skateboarders jumping off the landing here in front of Wescustogo Hall. … You could have lawnmower racing across the soccer fields, because that’s recreation,” Wright said.
Judy Camuso, assistant regional wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, spoke to the Board of Selectmen in September 2008 about what can happen in places where hunting is prohibited. At that time, the area’s deer population was higher than the goal recommended by a public working group on big game.
Camuso said a balance had to be reached to minimize human health risks, including motor vehicle-deer collisions and cases of Lyme disease, and to still maintain a healthy deer herd.
Resident George Fogg, who helped gather signatures to place the recreation question on the warrant, asked Town Meeting voters how many of them were in deer-related accidents or had been stricken with Lyme disease, or knew people who had. Several raised their hands.
“This town has way too many deer,” Fogg said. “Every piece of land that hunters can’t get on, the biologist told us that deer learn within 24 hours that that land is a sanctuary, and they will use that during the hunting season, so it just exacerbates the problem we have.”
Fogg, who said his wife had Lyme disease, added that “I’m not saying that we need to go to work and open up Old Town House Park just for hunters. I think it behooves each one of us to let people get in there and move around.”
Resident James Shepard-Kegl said he has hit three deer with vehicles in the past few years, that his garden was “hopeless” after being consumed by deer, and that his wife was once in bed for six weeks with Lyme disease.
Saying he understood the issues and was “somewhat conflicted,” Shepard-Kegl noted, “When I was a little boy, I was in the woods and I was shot at. It was clearly a mistake, I think.”
Holding his grandson, he added, “I would just ask that we not do anything that jeopardizes those few areas where I can run this little boy.”
Conrad Lausier said he hasn’t hunted in 35 years, but does walk in the woods, where he meets hunters.
“You can exist in the woods with a hunter,” he said. “Most hunters will stay away from where people are walking with dogs, because all that does is, is that just scares the hell out of the deer.”
Lausier noted that publicly owned land belongs all residents, including hunters. “And somewhere we’ve got to find a way for all of us to coexist with this land, or we sell the whole goddamn bunch of it, or get rid of it, one or the other.”
A proposed amendment for “non-destructive” recreation to be allowed on public owned property was defeated, followed by the original article. The vote on the article, unofficially 51-36, was by a show of hands.
Hodgetts said afterward that he thinks he will be back next year with another petition. He said he was trying to be fair to everybody with the “all recreation” language discussed at Town Meeting.
Voters approved a $2.1 million budget for fiscal 2011, which is about 8 percent smaller than this year’s spending plan. The budget will be funded through $1.3 million in municipal income and about $842,000 in municipal appropriations, which comes largely from taxpayers.
An amendment to the public facilities line passed. While the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation of about $102,000 went to the floor, the budget committee’s recommendation of $1,000 more, for generator repairs for the fire station, earned ultimate approval.
Another amendment, which added $15,000 in paving and subtracted $15,000 in road maintenance in public works, passed and did not affect the overall total.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.