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Living in the cross hairs

Homeowners want rules to protect houses at Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2006

A rift is growing between hunters and homeowners who fear someone is going to get seriously injured if nothing changes at Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

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Homeowners say they are pro-hunting but worried. They want new hunting rules.

Hunters say they support more state enforcement to weed out their careless brethren who have peppered houses with bird shot and, according to homeowners, at least one man's head.

Mick and Melissa Green live at Mendenhall Peninsula Road, where they said many houses have been hit.

"Our house was first hit with pellets by a doctor the first day of hunting season in 2000," Melissa Green said. "My husband Mick was shot in the head and chest when working in the backyard in 2001."

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is charged with managing the refuge. Doug Larsen, regional supervisor of the department's Division of Wildlife Conservation, said the department recognizes the fears and is working to address them while continuing to provide waterfowl hunting in the Juneau.

"We believe our efforts - in conjunction with local conservation groups - can provide for homeowner protections through waterfowl hunter education, accountability, and incident investigation, while simultaneously providing waterfowl hunting opportunities," Larsen said.

Most hunters, birdwatchers and others use the refuge without incident, he said.

Alfred Cook lives at 9506 Antler Way on the lower Mendenhall River. He has an issue.

"On the morning of Thanksgiving in 2004 my house was peppered with shotgun pellets by duck hunters who were legally hunting across the river from my house," Cook said. "I am pro-hunting, but to allow hunting this close to homes, the airport and the highway system is not safe."

Juneau's firearms ordinance states that it is illegal for anyone but a law officer to discharge a gun within a quarter-mile of a public road, except on the refuge.

"We ask that the Juneau Lands Committee recommend the Assembly appeal or change the exception," Mick Green said.

At this point recommending any change to the ordinance would be a radical approach, Lands and Resources Manager Steve Gilbertson said.

"This would create several doughnut holes around the refuge, which I would not call good management," Gilbertson said. "Duck hunting is a part of our unique history in Juneau. It would be a shame to lose that freedom."

Larsen said department permits are required to hunt on the refuge, including for waterfowl, snipe or cranes. Some state plans for improved safety for the 2006 waterfowl season include: conducting a waterfowl clinic stressing safety on the refuge; requiring permittees wishing to hunt Mendenhall Peninsula Area to come to the Douglas office and register; improving incident tracking and agency coordination. Larsen said the department may have more of a presence on the refuge.

Alaska Ducks Unlimited worries about the proposal to change current regulations that allow hunting within a quarter-mile of roads within the refuge, said Art Dunn, the group's Southeast Alaska district chairman.

"Should the ordinance be changed a large part of the refuge will be off-limits to waterfowl hunting, leaving only a scrap of land in the center of the refuge to hunt on," Dunn said.

"Most importantly, the youth of our community will lose their right to hunt. They will lose all the opportunity and positive experiences that small-game hunting offers to young people, including learned responsibility, respect for the outdoors, self-reliance and appreciation of wildlife."

Dunn said a "sprinkling" of bird shot from afar usually is regarded as relatively harmless.

"We have things in common with complaining landowners: We all would like to see more enforcement of applicable laws on the refuge," Dunn said. "We believe that more of an enforcement presence during the waterfowl season would serve as a reminder to all hunters, especially the bad apples, that reckless or unlawful behavior will likely have consequences."



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