An oversight allowing hunting and trapping on New York City-owned lands in Woodstock prompted an emotionally charged and raucous meeting of the town Environmental Commission May 22, but the town supervisor said it was all a misunderstanding.
Last year, the city Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Ashokan Reservoir and its watershed, opened city-owned land bordering Yankeetown Pond to all forms of recreation, including hunting and trapping. The agency had sought input from the town, but received none.
While many residents seem amenable to the four-week deer season in the late fall, the lands would be open to all hunting seasons spanning nine months out of the year.
However, in response to concerns from town officials and residents, the DEP has since removed the parcel from its list of available hunting areas on its website and removed signage. But that didn’t stop outraged residents from showing up at the meeting.
Town Supervisor Jeremy Wilber said he regretted the oversight, but remains confident all parties can work out a resolution.
The Environmental Commission and Town Board worked together in 2002 to come up with a solution to allow some hunting, but not the nine months opened up recently.
The DEP kept the land closed until November 2013 when it sent a letter to Wilber seeking input. Wilber explained he had assumed the DEP was implementing the 2002 recommendations and thought nothing of it.
“My mistake. Mea culpa,” Wilber said when questioned later. “I feel terrible about it.”
Wilber wasn’t alerted to the problem until about a month ago, when neighbors called complaining about the DEP posting signs and listing the land on its website, but he thinks it can be sorted out.
“I called them (DEP). They were absolutely, completely cooperative. I said ‘Allow me to have another dialogue on the issue of the use of the property.’”
The Environmental Commission ultimately tabled any recommendations on the 828-acre parcel, noting even if it were open up to public use, there is little or no public access to the land. The commission also took comment on a 35-acre parcel on Sickler Road that the DEP proposes to open to all recreational use. The panel recommended only opening that parcel to hiking. The commission’s recommendations are forwarded to the Town Board, which then directs them to the DEP.
The Environmental Commission “does not make fish and game laws for New York State,” said Chairman Jim Hanson. “It is in our purview to recommend no hunting within certain parcels in Woodstock.”
Hiking and hunting
Residents of both areas said they chose their homes because of peace and quiet and are also concerned for the safety of neighbors and children who play in the backyards.
Jenny Brown, executive director of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, which is near the Sickler Road parcel, is concerned for the animals’ safety. “The animals jump and run when there hear gunfire,” she said. Brown said she doesn’t agree with the idea that hunting is needed because certain species like deer are overpopulated. “Hunting is murder,” she said. Brown is also concerned for the visitors and residents who walk along Sickler Road for its scenic beauty.
Joe Leone, former president of the Federated Sportsmen of Ulster County, claimed hunting is the third safest activity. “Bowling is more dangerous than hunting.”
That prompted heckling from Brown, resulting in a warning to respect all speakers and that anyone who got out of hand would be told to leave.
Cold Brook Road resident Shiela Isenberg, wife of former Councilman Chris Collins, asked people not to be so divisive. “Hunting is part of Woodstock,” she said. “We have to make sure hunting in our town is done properly.” Isenberg said a hunter was kneeling in her driveway with a crossbow aiming at a deer in her yard, making her concerned for the safety of her grandchildren. “I don’t want to have to buy orange shirts for my grandchildren,” Isenberg said. While she doesn’t think putting hikers and hunters on the same land is a good idea, neither is fighting with each other for a solution.
“Let’s not pit each other vegan against hunters. That’s not the way to go,” she said.
Resident Nancy Butler-Ross urged the commission to revisit recommendations made in 2002 that would limit hunting, saying nine months of hunting “excludes many” from the land. “I don’t think hiking and hunting can safely coexist,” she said.
But Leone countered that hunters and hikers have existed on the same land for generations. He added that hunting is necessary to curb overpopulation.
Despite that, Councilman Jay Wenk said he is “unilaterally opposed to hunting” on any town land.
“I guarantee I will never vote for hunting on those lands,” Wenk said. “It’s not just hunting, it’s trapping. Pets get mauled in those things.”
Former Councilman Chris Collins urged cooperation on a solution, noting that he worked with Leone to get a new wetlands law that was agreeable to hunters.
“We’re all neighbors. We can sit down and negotiate,” he said.