SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Reversing a ban on hunting at the Chafee National Wildlife Refuge in Narragansett and South Kingstown continued to draw opposition this week as the deadline for comments drew to a close amid warnings of danger area residents face from hunters.
Among the last vocal critics was Robert Zarnetske, South Kingstown town manager, saying that nearby residents and homes could be hurt by weapons, including bullets from guns, hunters use to shoot deer, turkeys and birds on the Chafee property.
“The town further maintains allowing hunting at Chafee will expose the neighboring property owners to undue risk of personal injury or property damage and will expose the federal government to potential risk of tort liability,” he said in a letter to federal Fish and Wildlife Service officials.
Narragansett’s Police Chief Sean Corrigan has also objected to the use of firearms on the property in Narragansett, but did not object to the use of archery hunting using a bow and arrow.
Federal officials, meanwhile, have touted these changes at the Chafee reserve and at 96 other national wildlife refuges as “the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in history,” according to an agency press release announcing the expansion.
“Public safety is our utmost concern. The safety zones in the proposals are according to state regulations. Additionally, in some areas archery-only hunts are proposed, and short-term restrictions on other uses are proposed in other areas during firearms seasons,” said Vanessa Kauffman, federal Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman.
Both congressional and local officials, as well as some residents, have voiced opposition since April when these changes were announced for Chafee and four other national wildlife refuges in the state.
The hot button with the Chafee refuge is the permitting of hunting in areas of a fragmented 563-acre site that abuts public places such as a school, the bike path and private residences.
Local officials say that their sentiments arise from safety, not an anti-gun campaign.
Because the site is federal property, local officials admit they have few options — other than encouraging public opposition — to delay or change the proposed action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Some federal and state officials have said that a proposed parking area for hunters may never be sufficient for the preserve and could be a deal-killer for actual hunting despite any approvals.
Narragansett’s Town Council declined in a 1-3 vote, with one abstention, to pass a resolution last month to oppose the move.
The South Kingstown Town Council opposes the designation for hunting. In an almost legal-brief style Zartnetske laid out an argument in the five-page letter about the reasons the federal government should abandon or limit hunting at the Chafee preserve and expansion at Trustom Pond.
“The (federal) properties located on Long Island, coastal Connecticut, Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts are highly prized not because they are like the vast parklands of the West, but rather because they are small sanctuaries tucked into residential neighborhoods and the peripheries of metropolitan districts,” he wrote.
“Town believes that allowing hunting on these properties would reduce their cumulative recreational benefit because hunting requires larges spaces and creates natural “exclusion zones” into which birdwatchers, walkers, and joggers will not venture,” he said.
He also argued:
He believes that if the proposed federal plan is adopted, the actual and perceived danger of hunting allowed near walking, bicycle and kayaking areas will suppress, not increase, recreational use federal properties.
Chafee Preserve and Trustom Pond are both located within residentially zoned portions of the Town of South Kingstown. While the federal government is not obliged to respect local zoning rules, the pattern of development around its properties should inform the government’s policies and proposed uses, particularly when those proposed uses have the potential to cause personal injuries or damage to nearby properties.
Failing to prevent projectiles from leaving the federal property if those projectiles caused harm on adjacent properties can exposes the federal government to legal action.
There are alternatives to wide-scale hunting on small-scale properties. For instance, the National Wildlife Research Center at the U.S. Department of Agriculture has conducted immuno-contraceptive research with a vaccine known as porcine zona pellucida (PZP) for several years. The center has found PZP is a highly effective contraceptive in both deer and coyotes. So, contraceptive treatments and time-limited hunting options should be alternatives considered to control deer populations and avoid hunting.
Federal properties in southern New England are already being put to their best and highest uses as both wildlife refuges and public recreational venues controlled by existing federal policy.
Joseph Viele, South Kingstown Town Council member, also wrote to the federal agency to oppose the re-designation.
“I believe that this plan is totally out of place for the area. Many residences are far too close to this area to be safe and the ability to enjoy properties in these neighborhoods will be extremely diminished,” he said.
South Kingstown Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz also has expressed similar thoughts. “My concern is the proximity to residential neighborhoods,” he said. “Also, Trustom Pond is a beautiful place to go walk the trails.”
Narragansett Police Chief Corrigan asked federal officials to follow – though they are not required to – a 1969 town ordinance prohibiting the use of firearms except for at ranges for rifle or pistol shooting that meet the requirements of the police department.
“This change in the plan would still allow for archery hunting on the refuge land in Narragansett and the land in South Kingstown would still be available for the firearm hunting described in your plan,” he wrote.
“I am also concerned that the plan includes a small section of land referred to as the Mumford Unit where the Narragansett bike path is located,” he wrote.
“I am requesting that this section of the plan be eliminated altogether out of an abundance of caution for public safety and the peace of mind of the citizenry,” he said.