Some find hunting too close for comfort
In Hingham, bowmen using conservation land raise concern
Karen Lovelock has lived next to Burns Memorial Park, 24 acres of conservation land in Hingham, for two decades and never expected to see anyone sauntering into the woods near her home with a bow and arrow.
But the shock at that sight on a recent fall afternoon turned into worry, and she decided to notify the police.
“But when I called police, they said, ‘Oh, no, it’s OK, there’s hunting on conservation land,’ ’’ Lovelock said. “I called Cliff Prentiss [Hingham’s conservation officer], and we also had this conversation about how they do let people hunt.’’
Hunting has been allowed on the town’s conservation land for the past three years, and on private property for centuries.
On conservation land, the rules are more regimented - hunters must stay at least 150 feet from trails and can hunt Monday through Saturday, from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
Furthermore, hunters may use only a bow and arrow to hunt throughout the season, which began Oct. 17 and ends Saturday; hunters must stay at a temporary tree stand and are not allowed to stalk prey through the woods; and licensed hunters must additionally receive permission to hunt from the Conservation Commission each year.
Regardless of the policies, some residents are worried about hunting on land behind their backyards, especially since few people seem to know about it.
“When I called police, there were three backyards of children playing soccer after school. My children are older, but if they were my children in the backyard, I’d want to know if someone was hunting deer in the woods,’’ Lovelock said. “It’s a notification issue. [The Conservation Commission] should disclose what’s happening, and people should know.’’
Selectwoman Laura Burns was less worried about notification and more about hunting close to homes.
“I’m concerned about this one spot,’’ she said. “There may be other areas I’d be concerned about if I looked at the map. In this case, it’s only a small area, 20 acres or less, and it’s surrounded by people’s backyards where kids play.’’
Burns also has a home that abuts the park area, and said that if residents are concerned, they should bring up the issue with the Conservation Commission.
“Permission has already been given for this season, but they would consider [barring hunting in specific areas] for next season,’’ Burns said. “People can come and make a case that there is a public safety concern and the commission would take it very seriously.’’
It’s exactly what Lovelock plans to do, but Conservation Commission chairwoman Carolyn Neilsen said safety already is the top priority.
In Hingham, there are only 27 people with permission to hunt on conservation land, and all of them are licensed with the state.
Not only do those licenses come with a list of rules and regulations for hunting, but the Conservation Commission’s additional requirements have made it even safer for pedestrians strolling in the woods unaware, Neilsen said.
Furthermore, of the seven conservation areas in Hingham where hunting is allowed - McKenna’s Marsh, Triphammer Pond, Foundry Pond, an area off Abington Street, the Plymouth River Conservation area, Burns Memorial Park, and Moore Brewer Park - the tree stands are far enough away from public paths that it shouldn’t be a problem.
“The public is in far greater danger from driving your car around and having deer hit cars,’’ Neilsen said.
In fact, the town had 11 reports of vehicle collisions with deer in 2010, and five this year. As for reports of injuries as a result of hunting - police couldn’t recall any in the last several decades.
Hunting can help control the region’s deer overpopulation, which creates a host of problems, said Prentiss, the conservation officer.
“We have such a huge deer population that they have eaten everything in the forest areas, which is why we see them in the residential areas,’’ Prentiss said. “We also have the tick, which is carried by the deer initially, which can [transport] Lyme and several other diseases.’’
“As a woodsman, deer ticks are outrageous out there. I walk through the bushes and it looks like someone has taken a pepper shaker full of ticks on me,’’ said Lieutenant David Horte, a Hingham police officer who hunts on conservation land in the town. “I don’t even think the hunters themselves are going to be able to impact the ticks, with legal hunting methods, but it helps. It’s a step in the right direction.’’
To Horte, who eats just about everything he kills, hunting is a valid sport that responsible adults should be allowed to practice without concern.
“I’m in favor of them opening up the property even more - like the town forest, which would be viable places for people to hunt,’’ he said. “Again, with a bow and arrow in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth, showing courtesy to the other people using the property and other hunters.’’
Hingham falls in the middle when it comes to hunting restrictions. In Norwell, both bow and firearm hunting are allowed following state rules on conservation land, town land, and permitted private property.
“We get questions, not a lot of controversy, and we get them from both sides,’’ said David Osborne, chairman of the Norwell Conservation Commission. “I try to have people understand the situation . . . like a lot of places, we’re trying to keep the balance of the deer population, and to do that you have to have some hunting.’’
Duxbury follows a provision similar to Hingham’s, allowing bow hunting from tree stands only. In Milton, however, hunting is not permitted on town land at all.
In most places, hunting is permitted on any private property, unless otherwise posted. Hunters must still follow rules about being 150 feet away from paved trails or 500 feet away from roads or houses when using firearms or bows and arrows.
Despite myriad regulations, Jason Zimmer, district supervisor for the Southeast Wildlife District of the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, said, “You’ll have 10 percent who are hunters who are strongly in support and 10 percent of the public who are strongly against hunting.
“There’s always local controversies with individuals who fall in that 10 percent who are against hunting that don’t want it on conservation land or property they abut, but there’s the same swath on the other side who are hunters in the town and have the same rights to use those properties according to state law in the way they wish.’’
The main issue will continue to be notifying the public of the rules and regulations and ensuring that no one is at risk.
“Once people are familiar and [know hunters] are acting legally, it’s not a problem,’’ Zimmer said.
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.