Island Center Forest may close for 17-day deer hunt season
By NATALIE JOHNSON
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter
September 7, 2011 · Updated 5:02 PM
The county hopes to close Island Center Forest to everyone but deer hunters for 17 days in October.
In an effort to continue to allow deer hunting at the forest while ensuring public safety, King County has proposed a shortened hunting season at the forest, during which time the area would be closed to all other uses. The abbreviated hunting season would take place from Oct. 15 to 31.
David Kimmet, a King County natural resources manager, said the county developed the proposal based on extensive feedback it gathered from Islanders last year. The issue of hunting in the forest came to a head last fall, when neighbors and frequent users of the forest raised concerns about whether hunting was compatible with the growing number of people who come to the forest to walk dogs, run and ride horses. The county even temporarily banned hunting at the forest, canceling a portion of the 2010 hunting season because of safety concerns.
At both a public meeting in October and through individual comments submitted to the county, Kimmet said hunters made it clear they wished to continue hunting at Island Center Forest, which has historically been the only public land on Vashon where hunting is allowed. Many non-hunters, however, felt it simply wasn’t safe to allow hunting in the thick, low visibility forest, which holds nine miles of trails.
Kimmet said he thinks allowing hunting during a short time when no other users would be permitted in the area is a good compromise.
“We think this proposal addresses all that input, both from hunters and non-hunters,” he said.
A two-week public comment period on the proposal will begin this week, after which the county will make a final decision on whether to implement the shortened hunting season.
Lou Fezio, a long-time Islander who walks his dogs at Island Center Forest several times a week, was surprised at the proposal. However, he said, being banned from the area during a brief hunting season made sense for public safety and would only be an inconvenience to him.
“I wouldn’t like it, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world,” he said. “It’s only two weeks. I’ll go somewhere else.”
Fezio, who attends Friends of Island Center Forest meetings, did, however, question the logic of devoting half the month to deer hunting in the forest. He rarely saw hunters there while it was allowed, he said.
“I’ve heard several times now that very few people hunt there. … I’ll want to get more facts,” he said.
Stephen Holtz, a Vashon equestrian and the King County Parks ambassador to Island Center Forest, agreed, saying it didn’t make sense to close the forest for hunting when so many people use it for other activities.
“The amount of hunting that actually takes place is way less than other activities,” he said. “In sheer numbers it is not equitable.”
Holtz, who is also a Friend of Island Center Forest, said he has long hoped the county would find a way for hunters and other users to safely share the forest, but didn’t think the current proposal was a good idea.
“I was in favor of somehow allowing hunting in Island Center Forest, but not at the expense of closing it down to all the other activities,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m shooting the project down, but with the number of people that use it every day, to deny that access I think it pretty drastic.”
Kimmet emphasized that the shortened hunting season would be a pilot program. He said volunteers stationed at the site would ask hunters to voluntarily register so the county could track how many hunters take advantage of the season and how many deer are killed during the 17 days.
“Part of our evaluation is to see how much use this will get during two weeks,” he said. “We’re hoping people will give this a chance, and we’ll evaluate the success.”
Under King County code, guns cannot be fired within 500 feet of buildings. To help assure hunters stay clear of homes — a concern those who live near the forest have raised — the county will provide extra maps of forest boundaries at park entrances. In addition, Kimmet said, by the time the hunting season starts, the county will have installed large maps of the forest that show where homes are located. Hunting would not be allowed at the 81-acre natural area within the boundaries of the forest, as it carries a designation that allows for only low-impact use.
Brad Shride, an avid hunter and member of the Sportsmen’s Club, agreed that Islanders don’t frequently hunt at Island Center Forest. Many avoid it, he thinks, in part because the forests’ low visibility and sparse deer population can make for difficult hunting. However, Shride said, he also thinks some hunters avoid the forest because they know so many people use the trails there.
“They don’t want to be somewhere where there’s going to be conflict … and most of them don’t want to be in a place to possibly put someone in harm’s way,” he said.
Shride liked the idea of a shortened hunting season at the forest.
“I think a few more will use it, knowing that some of the pedestrians will be out of there and it will be more of a quiet atmosphere. … I think it’s a great thing if everyone could share the same thing.”
To comment on the county’s proposed hunting season in Island Center Forest, email firstname.lastname@example.org or send comments to Kevin Brown, King County Parks, 201 S. Jackson Street, Suite 800, Seattle, WA 98104.