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Hunting grounds: City plans to expand hunting areas on city-owned conservation land

  • Bill Golaski and his daughter, Erika Childs, 22, both of Northampton, walk through woods off Cold Spring Road in Southampton to go hunting. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Erika Childs,22, and her father Bill Golaski, both of Northampton, walk through woods off Cold Spring Rd. in Southamtpon to go hunting. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Erika Childs,22, stands in woods off Cold Spring Rd. in Southamtpon before walking in with her father Bill Golaski, both of Northampton, to go hunting. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Erika Childs,22, stands in woods off Cold Spring Rd. in Southamtpon before walking in with her father Bill Golaski, both of Northampton, to go hunting. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Erika Childs,22, stands in woods off Cold Spring Rd. in Southamtpon before walking in with her father Bill Golaski, both of Northampton, to go hunting. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Erika Childs,22, and her father Bill Golaski, both of Northampton, walk through woods off Cold Spring Rd. in Southamtpon to go hunting. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bill Golaski and his daughter, Erika Childs, 22, both of Northampton, get ready to go hunting in woods off Cold Spring Road in Southampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Erika Childs,22, and her father, Bill Golaski, both of Northampton, get ready to go hunting in woods off Cold Spring Rd. in Southamtpon. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Erika Childs,22, and her father Bill Golaski, both of Northampton, look over maps of conservation areas they would like to see open to hunting. The two were on their way to woods off Cold Spring Rd. in Southamtpon to go hunting. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@BeraDunau
Friday, December 01, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — The city is proposing to expand hunting grounds to two additional pieces of city-owned conservation land, though some local hunters say they want far more land opened up to this form of recreation.

The current proposal is under review as part of a new seven-year Open Space, Recreation and Multi-Use Trail Plan, which will succeed the city’s present plan.

“Part of the plan is how do we serve all populations,” said Wayne Feiden, the city’s director of planning and sustainability.

Feiden said that the city doesn’t hear often from hunters about expanding hunting onto existing conservation lands. Instead, he said that the issue generally comes up when new land that was open to hunting is put under conservation and the use is taken away.

“That’s where it comes up most often,” said Feiden, giving the recent example of the purchase of property off Glendale Road where hunting was traditionally allowed.

Currently the city has two areas that are open to hunting: Rainbow Beach, which has been open to hunters since 1996, and a portion of Beaver Brook Greenway off Haydenville Road, which has been open to bow hunting since 2014.

Under the currently proposed multi-use plan, the Haydenville Road Beaver Brook area would be open to all types of hunting. Two other pieces of property, a 40-acre parcel south of Beaver Brook and a portion of the Mineral Hills Conservation Area off of Chesterfield Road, which is cut off from the conservation area as a whole, would also be opened up to all forms of hunting. Feiden said the city is not concerned about hunting causing any ecological harm.

“From a habitat standpoint, we’re not worried about hunting,” he said.

Indeed, he noted that harvesting a deer has a lot lower environmental impact than raising and harvesting a cow or pig.

“Especially a cow,” Feiden said.

Instead, he noted that managing hunting on city conservation lands is a matter of avoiding conflicts with people. As such, he said that the proposed areas are places that don’t see a lot of use presently. He said that even with the new parcels, only a very small part of city conservation land will be used for hunting.

“This is a tiny percentage,” Feiden said.

William Golaski, who lives in Florence, has been a longtime advocate of expanding hunting onto more city conservation lands.

“It’s encouraging, but I don’t believe that it’s enough,” said Golaski of the plan.

Golaski pointed out that much of the conservation land is purchased with Community Preservation Act funds, which are collected as a property-tax surcharge across the community.

“That use should also be even,” he said.

Asked about his decision to try to hunt in Northampton, as opposed to other communities or other states, Golaski, who does hunt elsewhere, noted that Northampton is his home.

“I don’t live there,” he said. “I live in Northampton.”

He noted that nearby Amherst has significantly more conservation land that is open to hunters.

Mitch Hartley wasn’t aware of the proposal to expand hunting to new conservation areas in the proposed plan. However, the Northampton resident is another longstanding advocate for expanding hunting in conservation areas in the city.

“It’s extremely difficult to find a place to hunt legally in Northampton,” Hartley said.

He said his enthusiasm for land protection in the city has plummeted over the last decade, as he’s dealt with people being opposed to hunting on the protected lands, to the point where he now has mixed feelings.

“It hurts me to say that,” he said.

A wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, Hartley helps to protect land as part of his job, although he noted that his responses to questions from the Gazette were in a private capacity.

“Most successful conservation partnerships are inclusive ones,” he said.

On the issue of safety, Hartley said that most hunting accidents happen to hunters themselves. In terms of people who are not hunters who are killed by hunters, he said that more people die playing baseball than are killed by hunters yearly, and that number is often zero.

“There isn’t a safety issue here,” he said.

A Nov. 29 hunting accident in Ware involved a 36-year-old hunter shooting himself in the foot with a shotgun. No one else was injured.

Hartley also said that people not being able to hunt on Sundays, and people only being able to hunt deer with shotguns, bows and muzzleloading firearms in Massachusetts, provides additional safety elements, as does Massachusetts’ short, two-week-long shotgun season for deer.

Hartley asserted that most conservation areas in Northampton could be opened up to hunting. However, he did see why people who are opposed to hunting do not like the practice.

Hartley ascribed the opposition to a combination of being disturbed at folks walking around with guns, and also to people not being familiar with hunting.

On another level, Hartley pointed out that much of the budget for state fish and wildlife agencies comes from the sale of hunting licenses and excise taxes on hunting equipment. As such, he said the decline of hunting as an activity does not bode well for such agencies.

Both Hartley and Feiden noted that deer hunting can also have an impact on the tick population, although Feiden said that it was minimal.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt,” he said.

Golaski and his daughter Erica were at a presentation about the city’s proposed multi-use plan on Thursday, in which Feiden touched on the hunting issue, as well as a number of other notable elements of the plan, like expanded ATV use.

He said that there wasn’t major dissatisfaction with the expansion from the pro- or anti-hunting sides at the forum, although there were some pointed questions.

Among those questioning the plan was Frandy Johnson, who served on the city’s planning board for 12 years.

Speaking the day after the meeting, Johnson said he didn’t understand why it is necessary to have hunting within the city limits at all.

“There’s plenty of places to hunt around,” said Johnson.

However, if it is to be allowed, he suggested it shouldn’t be spread out across multiple areas, and be confined to a place where it would not disturb people. He mentioned the Meadows section of Northampton. He also expressed opposition to opening up the Mineral Hills to hunting.

Johnson said he worries about hunting from a safety perspective.

“The problem is hikers getting shot,” he said, citing a recent fatality in New York this year where a hunter killed his neighbor when he mistook her for a deer.

He also didn’t take much solace in deer hunting being limited to low-range weapons in the state.

“It doesn’t take much to kill somebody,” he said.

While Golaski said that he thought the meeting went well, he did note that Feiden described the Mineral Hills parcel proposed for expanded hunting as overgrown and full of ticks in the summer.

“No one wants the evil stepchild, so we’ll give it to you,” Golaski said, of the city’s proposal to open up the parcel to hunters.

Nevertheless, he did say that he would consider hunting there, should it be opened.

“Because it’s one of our only opportunities, we’ll potentially attempt it,” he said.

“It’s very good that they’re actually giving us options,” said his daughter, Erica.

Golaski said that he wanted all of Mineral Hills Conservation Area and Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area opened to hunting, as they are western parcels with not a lot of housing around them.

“I’m not looking to hunt downtown behind Pulaski Park,” he said.

Feiden said that he plans to write a draft of the multi-use plan this month with the aim of having the city approve this new plan by February. The current multi-year open and recreation and trail plan expires in March.