Panel backs existing refuge hunting regs

Officials say they're working with residents and hunters to prevent accidents near urban wetlands

Posted: Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Assembly Lands Committee will recommend the city make no changes to a firearms ordinance that homeowners near the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge say leaves them at risk.

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A Juneau firearms ordinance states it is illegal for anyone but a law officer to discharge a gun within a quarter-mile of a public road, except on the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge. Homeowners had asked for the ordinance to be changed. Instead, the city will put their trust in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which is charged with managing the refuge.

The unanimous vote Monday night was a show of support for Fish and Game, criticized by some homeowners as being ineffective managers of the refuge. The issue was discussed in a packed chambers, with some wearing camouflage jackets.

"By repealing the ordinance much of the waterfowl hunting would be abolished," Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Ryan Scott said. "It would really just concentrate hunters in a small place, creating other potential problems."

Al Cook, a hunter who lives at 9506 Antler Way on the lower Mendenhall River, said he wants the city to step in before "it is too late." Duck hunters have been using the pond across the lower Mendenhall River for hunting. The pond sits near his home, he said.

"We do not want hunting to stop at the refuge," Cook said. "We just want to ensure that it is done in a safe manner before anyone gets hurt."

He said his house was peppered with shotgun pellets by duck hunters who were legally hunting across the river from his house on Thanksgiving in 2004.

"If someone does get hurt then there could be a knee-jerk reaction resulting in hunting being prohibited entirely," Cook said.

The Department of Fish and Game is working to fix the problem, said Lands and Resources Manager Steve Gilbertson.

"They (Fish and Game officials) are moving in the right direction by working with homeowners and hunters to refine and test (management strategies)," said Gilbertson. " The city is really not in the game-management business."

Scott reiterated Fish and Game's commitment to address homeowners concerns. State plans for improved safety during the 2006 waterfowl season include a waterfowl clinic that will stress safety on the refuge, required registration at the Douglas office for permittees wishing to hunt in the Mendenhall Peninsula area and better incident tracking and agency coordination.

"We will have more of a presence on the refuge, but we expect a high level of agency cooperation," Scott said. "We are not state troopers."

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