SOUTH KINGSTOWN — Joining their Narragansett neighbors, residents in South Kingstown spoke out last week against a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to open parts of the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge in Narragansett and South Kingstown to hunting.
“We’ve had a number of conversations with folks over the last couple of days, and met with a number of neighbors,” Town Manager Rob Zarnetske said.
The plan is an effort at the national level to open up more federal lands to recreational hunting, Zarnetske said.
“This is not a decision being made by Rhode Island or by the federal government in regard to Rhode Island,” he said.
The Fish and Wildlife plan also proposes constructing a parking lot in South Kingstown to accommodate hunters that could come to the refuge.
The comment period for the plan was scheduled to end June 1, and the Town Council planned to draft a letter of opposition to send to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Narragansett’s Town Council declined to pass a resolution that opposed the move at a meeting last month.
Areas of the 563-acre refuge abut public places such as an elementary school, bike path as well as private residences.
“My concern is the proximity to residential neighborhoods,” South Kingstown Council vice president Bryant Da Cruz said. “Also, Trustom Pond is a beautiful place to go walk the trails.”
Council member Joe Viele said he’s less concerned about the hunting than the impact to nearby neighborhoods.
“When you take a neighborhood that’s pretty isolated and then increase traffic on a parking lot to federal land, it is more of an issue to me,” he said.
The refuge also is host to recreational activities including guided walking tours, hiking, boating, kayaking, paddle boarding and biking.
That has residents like Maggie Clune upset about the federal plans to change the use of the area in what they say is a drastic and potentially unsafe way.
Clune just bought her home in February for its location in a serene and tranquil area near the refuge.
“I value the environment, I value the animals. I have no interest in killing animals for sport nor in hearing gunshots,” she said. “We were all in quarantine and have had no way to comment on it, and we were not notified about it.”
Clune said the situation could be dangerous, especially given the proximity of the refuge to The Prout School, near where she lives.
“The kids go right into the preserve, and their lives would be in danger,” she said.
Clune gathered neighbors and passed out fliers to alert residents to the proposal.
“There were 40 people that showed up. Not one of them said they had heard of the proposal,” she said.
Abel Collins, council president, said the town’s ability to stop the project appears to be minimal. Zarnetske said the town has limited options because the refuge is federal property, and federal laws and regulations would supersede any state or local laws.
Town Solicitor Mike Ursillo said that unlike in zoning situations, there’s no requirement to notify neighbors.
Laura Leclair lives in the Tower Hill Heights area, and has been a resident for 20 years. It’s near where the Steadman Unit portion of the refuge exists.
“It is a very narrow area and abuts Crest Avenue, and there are 10 neighbors houses there. They had no idea about it,” she said. She walks her dog in the wooded area near Prout and the government courthouse center.
“It’s an area that’s now going to be open to hunting, and not just bow and arrow,” she said. “It’s also muzzle load ... and also shotgun. I’m just perplexed as to why they’re doing this at this time.”