Hunters or hikers?

The public is being asked to comment on two ordinances with quite different outcomes when it comes to deer hunting on the county-owned Kettles Trail property along Highway 20 north of Coupeville.

The either-or choice being given to the public was the idea of County Commissioner Mac McDowell, who at a staff session last Wednesday played the part of Solomon, deciding to cut the ordinance in question into two parts. No mother protested, although county civil attorney David Jamieson said it was the first such twin ordinances with opposite outcomes he could remember in his many years of service.

Presumably, if the public overwhelmingly supports hunting the Kettles area, one ordinance will pass. If public sentiment goes the other way, the other ordinance will be adopted.

“I don’t have a good feeling on Kettles,” McDowell said in explaining his reasoning. He said he’s heard from people who use the popular trail system for running, walking and horse riding, but not from hunters. He knows from past experience, however, that “at public hearings the hunters come out.”

Hunting opponents have been most vocal about the Kettles Trail issue to date, dashing out letters to the editor, posting notices in bicycle shops, and otherwise spreading the word that they see hunting as a danger to others.

Darcy Patterson, a member of the Island County Trails Council, watchdogged the commissioners at the staff session. Speaking outside the meeting room, she said the dual ordinance approach was “confusing,” but said her group will continue to argue that hunting is not compatible with other uses of the Kettles trail system.

The two ordinances are only contradictory on the Kettles issue. They agree to changes in hunting rules in other areas. At the Greenbank Farm, hunting would no longer be allowed on the northern portion of county-owned property. And at Deer Lagoon on South Whidbey, hunting could not take place within 150-feet of county-owned property, or 100-feet of the dike. On Camano Island, an area known as Camano Ridge would be open to hunting under certain conditions.

The public hearing for the two ordinances was set for 6 p.m. Sept. 26 on a vote by commissioners Bill Byrd and McDowell. Commissioner Mike Shelton, whose district includes the Kettles area, was at a different meeting on the mainland.

Shelton has made statements supportive of the Kettles hunting proposal in the past, but on Thursday he clarified his position, saying it was a “misstatement” that he is pushing hunting in the area.

“It’s dueling swords, hunters and non-hunters,” he said. “The board’s going to be wrong no matter what they do. We want some kind of equity that satisfies most people — which will probably satisfy no one.”

Shelton said hunting in the Kettles area could perhaps be allowed for a limited portion of the year if the area was thoroughly posted with warning signs. The proposed ordinances suggested Sept. 15 to Nov. 30 each year. During that period, non-hunters might be wise to stay out of the area.

“Common sense would tell me maybe I wouldn’t do it at that time,” he said, referring to people who ride horses in the area as an example.

Hunting apparently still takes place in the Kettles area, although under existing law it’s probably illegal. Present code states that county trails must have a 150-yard no-shooting buffer on either side. Since the 243-acre Kettles property is crisscrossed by trails, there’s probably not a place to legally stand and shoot.

Alan Meaux, a hunter who has been involved with Kettles issues for years, said Friday that hunters in rainy October and November seldom encounter many trail users.

“There aren’t that many people wandering around,” he said, adding that trails are meant for the public and “hunting is public recreation.”

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