Aug. 26, 2010By Greg Duggan Observer staff
The Williston Selectboard is facing pressure from residents to prohibit hunting on two town-owned parcels, Brownell Mountain and the Hill Property, but must determine who would enforce any regulations — and if hunting bans would actually stop people from shooting guns in the areas.
The Selectboard held a public hearing on the issue Monday. Residents crammed into the Town Hall Meeting room, most of them advocating for a hunting-free zone on Brownell Mountain. The discussion even escalated to the point where much of the audience backed the idea of prohibiting hunting in all of Williston.
Currently, hunting is not allowed in areas of Williston north of Interstate 89. South of the interstate, hunting is permitted with a few exceptions.
Following a Selectboard decision last fall to prohibit hunting in Five Tree Hill Country Park, located on Sunset Hill Road, the town’s Conservation Commission conducted a study of other town-owned parcels.
At Monday night’s meeting, attendees focused the discussion on the Brownell Mountain area.
Following a summary of the issue from Town Planner Jessica Andreoletti, resident Rick Brownell opened the public comments with an impassioned statement for the Selectboard to prohibit hunting on Brownell Mountain.
Apart from saying that “real hunters” avoid Brownell Mountain due to a lack of game, Brownell pleaded that the Selectboard consider the safety of homeowners and their children, as well as students at the Brownell Mountain School.
Brownell even accused the Selectboard of “bending over for a handful of target shooters.”
Other neighbors spoke after Brownell, telling stories about hearing nearby gunshots — including from semiautomatic firearms — seeing hunters pass within yards of homes and finding gutted deer close to residences. Nearly all the Brownell Mountain area residents who spoke asked the Selectboard to prohibit hunting on the land.
“I went through the Second World War and I never got killed, and I’d hate to get killed in my own backyard,” one resident said, drawing some chuckles from the crowd.
Fish and Wildlife Warden Dave LeCours attended the meeting at the invitation of Andreoletti and answered questions about state hunting regulations. Vermont is one of only a few states that allow hunting on all land unless it is posted otherwise.
Yet LeCours and others at the hearing voiced the concern that posting private property further encourages poachers to hunt on the land, knowing that other hunters won’t be in the area.
Yet for all the arguments to ban hunting, the consensus seemed to be that most shooting came from people setting up firing ranges.
“Judging from what I’m hearing, it sounds to me like you’ve got a small group of outlaws,” Frank Stanley said, referring to the tales of poaching and firing semi-automatics.
Stanley argued that if some people are already disobeying the law, a hunting ban would be unlikely to convince them to stop shooting.
Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, who said he helped the town draft the existing firearms ordinance, urged the board to take its time before making any changes to where the town permits hunting.
Jude Hersey of the Conservation Commission and Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig reminded the audience that the hearing was meant to address the Hill Property as well as Brownell Mountain. Hersey noted that new trails on the Hill Property connect to Five Tree Hill, where hunting is prohibited.
Because two Selectboard members — Ted Kenney and Chris Roy — were not at the meeting, Macaig said the board would postpone a decision on the issue.