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Island County park plan to set hunting, smoking policies

The process of creating a plan to govern Island County parks has touched on two hot-button issues: hunting and smoking.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes recently went to the county commissioners to get guidance on how the new parks plan should address the two concerns. As a result of the commissioners’ counsel, residents can expect smoking restrictions in a handful of county parks and a slight change in hunting rules.

County officials have been debating for years about whether hunting should be allowed on county property. County plans are currently fuzzy on the issue; Oakes said hunting is banned in county parks, but allowed in certain large, county-owned parcels.

To clear up the questions, Oakes suggested a policy that allows hunting on county property “where it can be done safely.” As a result of the caveat, he said the new policy wouldn’t really change much on the ground, with the possible exception of the Trillium Woods on South Whidbey.

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is transferring ownership of the 664-acre Trillium Woods to the county. Pat Powell, executive director of the nonprofit group, said no decision has been made yet on hunting on the property. The Land Trust is in the process of creating a master plan that will address hunting among other things. She said the Land Trust will retain an easement on the property which incorporates the management plan.

Powell said the stakeholders are trying to balance safety in the woods with the benefits of hunting, which could help manage the sheer number of deer.

Likewise, Oakes emphasized that Whidbey Island has a deer population that’s teetering on overpopulation. State wildlife agents are concerned about the overabundance, as are road crews. Oakes said between county crews and state crews, about 300 dead deer are picked up on roads in the county each year. The problem is most prevalent on South Whidbey.

In addition, Oakes said a new county parks policy should make it clear where hunting is OK. That includes the Kettles area near Coupeville and a large wooded property across the highway from the Greenbank Farm known as “Greenbank South.” Yet he said the policy may also shorten the hunting season in those places.

When it comes to smoking, a health department-related group called the ACHIEVE Coalition suggested that the commissioners implement a tobacco ban in all public places, including parks.

The commissioners, however, decided to only restrict smoking in the few county parks where people tend to congregate closely together, especially for athletic events. Oakes said that might include the Rhododendron Park, Don Porter Park and Dave Mackie Park.

In those parks, puffing cigarettes may be restricted to certain “smoking areas” to protect others. Oakes said the idea really isn’t unusual.

“Many, many things are allowed only in designated areas, whether its horseback riding or toy airplane flying,” he said.

The parks plan has to go through a public process before it’s approved and the proposed policies could change along the way.

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