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County gives a tentative nod to 17-day hunting season in Island Center Forest
King County officials say they will likely move forward with their proposal for a shortened hunting season at Island Center Forest, a plan that got mixed reviews at a public meeting last week.
Today is the last day to comment on the proposal, which would allow hunting in the forest for 17 days next month, during which time it would be closed to all other uses. County officials say the proposal is based on a large amount of feedback gathered last year and a thorough investigation into the impacts of the plan.
David Kimmett, a county natural resources manager, said the 10 Islanders who spoke at last Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by about two dozen people, mostly brought up concerns the county has already heard.
“We’re confident (the plan) addresses all the concerns we heard, and it's something we can implement,” he said.
Kimmett said the county would review the comments made during the two-week comment period and would likely move forward with the plan within a few days. The hunting season would begin Oct. 15.
Though few at the meeting spoke in direct support of the proposal, those in attendance were clearly divided on whether hunters and pedestrians could continue to share Island Center Forest as they have for years. The county's plan was crafted after an increasing number of Islanders raised concerns last year about the risk hunters posed to pedestrians at the densely forested and increasingly popular area during the four-month deer hunting season.
Lisa Peyer, who has lived by the forest for more than 20 years, said she has watched it become more and more popular among all users, and worries that eventually someone could be shot.
“I think it's a tragedy waiting to happen,” she said.
Of particular concern to those present were hunters from off-Island, whom several people said are known to disregard safety at the forest.
Amy Carey, who as a Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust board member was instrumental in the property's transfer to the county in 2005, said that on several occasions she has run into off-Island hunters who are lost, not wearing safety vests and sometimes shooting on the trail or wandering onto private property.
“I continue to see safety as a problem,” she said.
However, Carey said, closing the forest to most of its users for 17 days didn't seem fair. She thought the proposal should be taken off the table while the community discussed alternatives.
“I understand you're trying to find a solution, … but the closure for three weeks to me is not an equitable solution,” she said.
County officials at the meeting said they wished to continue to allow hunting at the forest in part because historically it's been the only public land on Vashon open to the activity. In addition, they said, hunting is the only way to control Vashon’s large deer population.
Brian Kertson, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist for the county, said that although Vashon's deer have not been formally surveyed, biologists believe the population is at or above a size that can be healthily sustained on the Island. Some of them, he said, are likely sick or malnourished. He noted that deer on Vashon are frequently hit by cars and are known to damage property.
“From the department standpoint, we view hunting as the only valuable tool to reduce the deer population, with the concern of public safety,” he said.
A few who spoke, however, argued against placing any limitations on hunting at Island Center Forest, saying hunters and pedestrians have shared the forest without problems for years.
“When is the last time someone was shot?” questioned Scott Harvey.
“A hunter should know their target. ... It's their responsibility,” he added. “I don't see any reason at all there should be this restriction.”
Kimmett told those at the meeting that hunters would be closely monitored during the shortened hunting season. Maps of the forest would be available and poster-size aerial photos at the trailheads would show where park boundaries and homes are located.
Scott Snyder, a King County resource coordinator, held up a wooden trail sign, an example of the two dozen he said would soon be installed at the forest and would help hunters know their location. Under county law, it's illegal to fire a weapon within 500 feet of a home, a rule those who live by the forest say is broken.
“We feel with all this signage, it will help the main issue,” Synder said.
The program would be a pilot, Kimmett emphasized, and the county would monitor how the forest is used during the time.
Lisa Coley, a mother of three who lives by the forest, told those present that she thought the proposal was a good idea, as she has always been concerned about her family’s safety in the forest during the four-month hunting season.
“I'm glad to see it was condensed,” she said, adding she didn't have a problem walking somewhere else during a shorter hunting season.
“It's a compromise, and I think that's what everyone was trying to come up with,” she said.
For more information on the proposed hunting season at Island Center Forest, see www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/trails/backcountry. Click “Island Center Forest” on the left, then “Hunting Proposal FAQ” on the right.
Today is the last day to comment on the proposal by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending comments to Kevin Brown, King County Parks, 201 S. Jackson Street, Suite 800, Seattle, WA 98104.