Wetlands neighbors call for nonhunting buffer

Posted: Friday, January 30, 2004

One year after the state intensified its education of duck hunters on the Mendenhall Wetlands, nearby residents are still looking for ways to protect their families and homes from being sprayed with shot.

"We've put up with that for over 15 years. We've been hit repeatedly, as have other neighbors," Glen Wright, a hunter who lives on Mendenhall Peninsula Road, told the Juneau-Douglas Advisory Committee of the state Department of Fish and Game on Wednesday.

Wright appealed to the committee to propose to the state Board of Game a nonhunting buffer near homes on the Mendenhall Wetlands, which is a state game refuge used by 600 to 700 waterfowl hunters a year. The season runs from Sept. 1 to Dec. 16.

"A third of the year our kids playing in the front yard put their well-being at risk," Wright said.

The Game Board is scheduled to address Southeast issues Nov. 2 to 5 in Juneau. The board sets rules for hunting and trapping on state and private land and some federal lands in Alaska.

The advisory committee agreed to form a subcommittee to define the problem and examine possible solutions.

The Game Board has the authority to set the hunting boundary in the wetlands, said Neil Barten, Juneau-area wildlife biologist with Fish and Game. Another option would be to seek a change in the city ordinance that exempts the wetlands from the usual prohibition of discharging a firearm with a quarter-mile of a road, he said.

In November 2002, the Game Board rejected a buffer zone, but agreed with a Fish and Game proposal to require Mendenhall Wetlands hunters to register at no cost each season.

The registration gives officials the opportunity to talk to hunters. Those who don't register aren't allowed to hunt in the wetlands the following year. Fish and Game also holds clinics to educate hunters about safe practices and ethical hunting.

Barten said Fish and Game wouldn't like to see the issue addressed with "drastic measures" until every effort to educate hunters has been taken.

Shooting toward a house is the crime of misconduct with a weapon, Alaska State Troopers Sgt. Steve Hall said in an interview. But it's hard to prepare a court case unless homeowners or troopers can identify the hunters, he said.

"A lot of times they're gone by the time we can get there," Hall said.

Advisory committee member Brent Crowe said a quarter-mile buffer would eliminate duck hunting at high tide, when hunters move to higher ground near houses and roads.

Crowe said he understands there are "bad eggs" among hunters. But he said the game refuge is the only reason that more of the wetlands weren't developed in the past, and the refuge is the reason nearby homeowners have great views.

Committee member Bob Cartmill said it would be best to work through the Game Board, rather than the city, because the city might shut down hunting on all of the refuge.

A quarter-mile buffer would cut the refuge from 5.9 acres to 3.7 acres, state officials have said. But the subcommittee might consider a buffer tailored to residential areas that have been sprayed with shot.

The Territorial Sportsmen, an outdoors group in Juneau, also has formed a committee to look for solutions with other interested organizations, said President Wayne Nicolls. Among the ideas are volunteers to patrol the wetlands and identify hunters who misbehave, he said.

"The wetlands refuge was set up originally with hunting as a primary reason," he said. "And of course we don't want to lose that, for our young people especially, for whom that's their only waterfowl hunting opportunity."

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