County rejects hunting rules

The Island County commissioners did a little time traveling Monday, riding their wayback machine to a time when hunting regulations were set by the state and six contentious meetings on the subject of implementing local hunting rules hadn’t happened yet.

Commissioners Mac McDowell and Bill Byrd out-voted Mike Shelton 2-1, and decided not to act on a proposed ordinance regulating hunting on certain county-owned lands.

That means none of the county’s proposed hunting rules in controversial areas such as the Kettles Trails on Central Whidbey, Deer Lagoon on South Whidbey and Camano Ridge on Camano Island will be implemented.

Hunters can continue to hunt the way they always have, without concern over county-imposed setbacks from private property and non-designated trails, and without worrying about a contemplated 10-week hunting season on county lands, far less than what the state allows.

Hunters and non-hunters butted heads in meetings three times on Whidbey Island and three times on Camano over the proposed regulations, which were meant as a compromise between the two warring parties. But common ground was never found.

“Since there seems to be no apparent compromise that would be acceptable to either side. . . . I will not support this ordinance and the current rules will stand,” said McDowell.

Byrd, who represents Camano Island, cited the varying opinions he had heard, and the fact that Camano residents seem more heavily against hunting than Whidbey residents, as reasons for not moving forward with the ordinance. He called for “additional investigation before this or any other resolution can be approved.”

Shelton confessed that “the board is not in agreement,” and stated his position that “I support this ordinance as it is written.”

To Shelton, the ordinance allowed all interest groups to use public lands, while regulating hunting more tightly on county properties. “To do nothing,” he said, “will further perpetuate the problem.”

Deer Lagoon neighbors in the Useless Bay Colony were vocal in their opposition to any compromise on hunting. Expressing safety and noise concerns, they wanted hunting banned from Deer Lagoon, as they claim it was before the county purchased the property two years ago.

Dave Haworth, a spokesman for the group, said after the meeting that they believe hunting should be suspended until the county goes through the State Environmental Protection Act process to permit hunting.

Shelton said he’s willing to have the county enter the SEPA process, but there was no indication Monday how that will happen. Haworth’s group has threatened to go to court to force the action.

Darcy Patterson of the Island County Trails Council had strongly opposed hunting in the Kettles area, which is popular with hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.

Patterson described the commissioners’ action as “confusing and ambiguous . . . it’s very confusing, and it’s not yet over.”

One remaining issue in her mind is the definition of a non-motorized trail. County rules require a 150-yard hunting setback from such trails. At present, only the Kettles Trail itself is listed as non-motorized, meaning the setback apparently applies only to that trail and not the many other smaller trails that crisscross the county-owned property.

Dave Hollett, who represented hunters in the public hearings, said Monday’s action may make it more clear where deer hunters can hunt in the Kettles area as well as Camano Ridge, because the definition of a non-motorized trail seems more clear now than in the beginning of the process.

“It opens the Kettles up and it opens Camano Ridge up,” he said, as there are no recognized non-motorized trails at Camano Ridge.

But Hollett shares some of Patterson’s confusion, saying he’s “kind of confused” about how the situation now stands. “I’m not really sure, I’ll have to wait until next year,” he said. A black powder hunter, Hollett’s deer season ended Dec. 15.

Bill Oakes, Island County public works director, said Tuesday the issue is clear to him. There is only the single designated non-motorized trail in the Kettles area, and none in Camano Ridge. “There’s more area to hunt,” he said, describing the effect of the commissioners’ action on Monday. He also noted that hunting will still be legal on a small portion of the Greenbank Farm on the north and east side of the highway that the failed ordinance had slated for closure.

Ray Gabelein often spoke for hunters’ rights at Deer Lagoon. He foresees litigation arising from Monday’s decision, because of the position of nearby homeowners. “It’s unfortunate homeowners couldn’t have been more reasonable and come up with a compromise,” he said Tuesday. “They might have missed an opportunity.”

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