County temporarily halts hunting in Island Center Forest
By LESLIE BROWN
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Editor
October 12, 2010 · 12:43 PM
King County officials have temporarily suspended hunting in Island Center Forest so that they can take a closer look at whether the use of firearms makes sense in the popular, county-owned woodland.
The county plans to hold a public meeting on Vashon within a month to discuss the issue. County officials have received numerous phone calls and e-mails over the past two weeks, in the wake of news coverage and letters to the editor about hunting in Island Center Forest.
“It just seems prudent for us to call a time-out and come to Vashon and have a broad and comprehensive discussion face to face,” said Doug Williams, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
The decision was announced shortly after two Island activists called the county to let them know that a county public safety code appears to put the entire 369-acre forest off-limits to hunting. The county code — quite distinct from the state’s hunting regulations — says people cannot discharge a firearm within 500 feet of a building or trail.
Because the forest is laced with trails, those who know Island Center Forest well say there’s little chance a hunter could ever discharge a firearm without being in violation of the public safety code.
Williams, however, said the county made its decision to put a temporary halt to hunting because of the controversy the issue has stirred — not because of the code.
According to Williams, it’s not yet clear if the code applies to Island Center Forest. The county’s lawyers, he added, are trying to determine its applicability. “There are very specific definitions about parkland and trails,” he said.
Meanwhile, he added, more than three dozen people have contacted the county to lodge their concerns about the issue — with the group being about evenly split between those who think hunting should end and those who want to make sure it continues.
“We have a broad range of opinions. ... The popularity of Island Center Forest has grown significantly over the years. It’s just time to take a closer look,” Williams said.
Those who have contacted the county to express their concerns about hunting said they’re encouraged by the county’s decision.
“I think it’s a prudent temporary measure,” said Rheagan Sparks, who has gone horseback riding in Island Center Forest for several decades. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Sparks, a Vashon High School graduate, said she’s grown increasingly concerned about hunting at the county-owned forest. She’s learned to be “noisy and bright” during hunting season, she said, whistling tunes, dangling bells and wearing “hunter orange” during her frequent early-morning rides.
But she’s noted that the many other users are not so conscientious, she said. She’s had cyclists riding soundlessly surprise her from behind. And this year, for the first time, she said, she’s seen hunters not wearing hunter-orange, skulking through the underbrush in a part of the forest off-limits to hunting and carrying rifles with scopes — which are not allowed in Island Center Forest.
“I think there’s so much use in there now ... that the county has created more of a conflict than there ever was,” she added.
Amy Carey, one of the Islanders who researched regulations and discovered the public safety code limiting the use of firearms in King County, said she’s pleased the county has put a halt to the activity.
“It’s given people some peace of mind,” she said. “I’ve heard from several people that they’re relieved.”
But some in the hunting community say they’re unhappy with the county’s move, which came only days before the shotgun season — the most popular form of hunting — was slated to begin.
“It’s a large body of forest that was open to hunting all this time, and I think it should remain open,” said Brad Shride, an Islander and avid hunter who just returned from a seven-day hunt near Mount St. Helens.
An Island native, Shride said he remembers when only a few thousand people lived on Vashon and hunting was commonplace. “I’m sad to see the restrictions and the city come to Vashon,” he said.
Shride and other hunters said they know of few Islanders who hunt there. It’s not the best place to find deer, in part because it’s so heavily forested and so many people with dogs now use the forest, he noted.
Still, Shride said, he wants to see it remain open — if only for those who don’t have other places to hunt. “I’m not thinking just of myself,” he said.
Dan Rice, president of the Vashon Sportsmen’s Club, agreed. He, too, hates to see the forest off-limits to hunting, even though he doesn’t hunt there.
“I think people feel as though they’re getting something taken away from them,” he said.
Dave Kimmett, a natural resources program manager for the county, came out to talk to the Vashon Sportsmen’s Club a week and a half ago to vet the issue. About 50 to 60 people attended the meeting, many of whom urged Kimmett to keep the forest open to hunting, Rice said.
An e-mail also circulated among the more than 300 members of the Sportsmen’s Club, urging members to call or e-mail Kimmett. “You might suggest that the forest be closed to all other uses during hunting season,” the e-mail said.
The county took ownership of the expansive forest about five years ago. For years, it had been owned by the state, which allowed hunting.
Williams, with the county, said the issue has never come up until this season, when the county decided to explore the question of hunting because of the forest’s increased popularity. Now, he said, he and others in the county realize that the Island is quite divided.
“This is a fairly contentious issue,” he said. “We need broader input as to where we should go now.”Contact Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Editor Leslie Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-206-463-9195.