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Columnist John Clapp: Objects to hunting on conservation land

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

More than 100 residents of Northampton and Westhampton attended a meeting Dec. 19 at the Leeds School, where allowing hunting on three parcels of conservation land was considered. Most who attended were opposed.

The land includes the Girl Scout and Beaver Brook properties on Route 9 in Leeds and the Mineral Hills property off Chesterfield Road in Florence. This is a very divisive topic and both sides had the chance to voice their opinions for and against hunting at these sites, and all were passionate about their views.

The hunters spoke of dwindling access to hunting grounds, and equated their restrictions in a sanctuary city with discrimination. Those against hunting on these sites expressed safety fears and a strong objection to the sound of shotguns. Hikers want to be able to enjoy walking in nature free from the sound of shotguns piercing their tranquility.

I have hunted in the past and I’m not opposed to hunting in general. However, there are places that should remain hunting-free. Hunters are upset at losing hunting areas used in the past but there are numerous places still open to hunting, both public and private.

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has 200,000 acres set aside for hunting, many within a 10-minute drive of Northampton, with options of going to Williamsburg, Chesterfield, Ashfield, or Conway, along with other areas in Franklin County. Many state parks are open to hunting, and hunters can also ask for permission from willing private land owners.

Mixing hiking and hunting on conservation land is unacceptable. Mistakes are made. Do we want to risk the tragic end of a life of someone hiking on conservation land? There were approximately 1,000 people shot in hunting accidents in the U.S. last year, and about 100 were killed, including one woman in New York state last fall.

Clear at the meeting were people’s objections to hearing gunshots, and not knowing how close the hunter might be. This is very disconcerting to non-hunters, and many people live in fear in their own homes and yards.

Thirty or 40 years ago, land was more accessible to hunters and the number of hikers was limited. But times have changed, and there are now many more hikers. Residents should not have to worry about the safety of children and pets.

The parcel I am most concerned about is the Mineral Hills area. It abuts our land, which has a conservation restriction to add to the wildlife corridor, and where hunting is prohibited. These two properties are only divided by a hiking trail. My wife and I have had problems with hunters in the past. They have shot through or torn down our “no hunting” signs, trespassed and installed tree stands on our property.

I come down on the side of the hikers, being one myself. My wife and I hike in the Mineral Hills area daily and our bed and breakfast guests use it most weekends. I lead hikes on this trail for the Westhampton Council on Aging and other groups, and we often see many other individuals out for a day hike. Our bed and breakfast guests come for quiet and to hike. If they are subjected to hearing shotgun blasts, they will not return, and that would affect our business.

Many people who use the Mineral Hills-Turkey Hill hiking path on a regular basis also object. Most of this area has been put into conservation to create a wildlife corridor for animals and hiking. The intent has been clear, and the sign at the trailhead reads “no hunting.” I am puzzled by the discussion of opening Mineral Hills to hunting and strongly object, as conflicts will continue to arise.

As Henry David Thoreau said: “To preserve wild animals implies generally, the creation of a forest for them to dwell in or resort to, so it is with man.”

Please write or call your city councilors, Planning Board and Conservation Commission members to voice your opposition to hunting on conservation land.

John Clapp, a retired carpenter, is a lifelong resident of Florence who has a bed and breakfast on Chesterfield Road.