Group aims to reduce hunter-homeowner conflicts

Homes near Mendenhall wetlands hit with birdshot during waterfowl season

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2002

City workers took a chain saw to dead wood on Friday, quickly tearing down a snag favored by hunters who have fired steel birdshot toward homes on the Mendenhall Peninsula.

"That's part of the problem. We consider it to be an attractive nuisance because it's relatively close to the residences," said Carl Schrader, area habitat biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, as he helped scatter pieces of the old tree. "It's facing outward toward the residences instead of inward toward the refuge."

As hundreds of local waterfowl hunters prepare for the start of the hunting season on the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge on Sunday, a diverse group of wetlands users has been trying to resolve hunter-homeowner conflicts.

Melissa and Mick Green, who live near the now-removed snag on the edge of the wetlands, have watched hunters hit their home with birdshot several times over the past two years. Mick was hit in the head and chest with shot while working outside last year, he said.

Although he wasn't injured, "it didn't feel good," either, Melissa said.

"There's no question that if it hit you in the eye, it would put out your eye," she said. "It could certainly break windows."

Ducks Unlimited, the city and state Department of Fish and Game posted signs last year at some of the refuge's main entrances that show where homes are and urge hunters not to shoot near roads and residential areas. And the Juneau Gun Club, the Alaska State Troopers and Fish and Game continued a tradition of hunter education with a waterfowl clinic earlier this month that highlighted rules, regulations, safety and etiquette.

The Mendenhall Refuge Citizen Advisory Group also has been involved in the education effort.

"The main reason for all of this effort is to make sure the hunting season goes off with minimal conflicts," said Laurie Ferguson Craig, advisory group member. "We all need to cooperate and share the space."

The goal is to address the problem through education and communication, said Tony Reiger, an avid duck hunter and member of the advisory group and the gun club. Although the number of conflicts is "remarkably low" considering the amount of people who use the refuge, shot shouldn't be hitting people and homes, he said.

"We need to demonstrate that we're doing everything possible to educate the public, and specifically hunters, that there are appropriate activities and inappropriate activities," he said.

The Mendenhall wetlands is a tidal marshland in an urban area that provides unique opportunities for hunters and other users, according to Fish and Game's Schrader. The department wants to emphasize education before pursuing limits on hunting a quarter-mile or half-mile from homes, he said. Such a change could put "an awful lot of areas off limits," he said.

City ordinance prohibits the discharge of firearms within a quarter-mile of any public road or highway. It allows the use of shotguns within the Mendenhall wetlands refuge.

Fish and Game is proposing a registration hunt in the Mendenhall wetlands that would build on education efforts. The proposal will go before the state Board of Game when it meets in Juneau in November, Schrader said.

"They'd first have to check in with Fish and Game before the season starts, which would give us an opportunity to talk to them, brief them about safety considerations," he said. "It would give us an extra opportunity to make sure they were clearly informed about where the problem areas are."

But Melissa Green isn't hopeful education and snag-removal will solve the problem. She has asked the Board of Game to close a portion of the wetlands near homes to hunting and has asked the city to take similar action. She'd also like to see more enforcement.

"We're certainly not anti-hunting at all. We're anti our house and ourselves getting shot," she said. "It's people being careless and irresponsible, and you can't legislate responsibility. There needs to be a safety buffer, a boundary between where people can blast away with their guns and private residential property."

Besides using the snag that was removed, hunters have fired from alder trees close to her home when shot landed too close for comfort, Green said.

"The liability issues are going to necessitate greater restrictive measures at some point down the road. And that's too bad," she said. "If we could find a way of preventing the conflict right now before real damage is done, we could maintain and protect the privilege of people being able to hunt in the wetlands."

Reiger agrees that more enforcement is needed and favors a registration hunt, but doesn't want to see boundaries restricted. One of the reasons the Mendenhall wetlands refuge is in place today is because local hunters advocated for its creation, he said.

"We need to keep those lines of communication open so they understand we're doing everything we can. But at the same time, we have a right to be out there and enjoy something we worked very hard to create," he said. "This is a precious, precious thing. Everyone knows what Central Park does for New York City. As far as I'm concerned, this is better than Central Park."

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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