Riled residents packed the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center July 2, claiming backdoor-deals and conspiracies they think will ultimately lead to hunting being allowed nine months a year on an 828-acre city-owned parcel near Yankeetown Pond.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth, Woodstock Environmental Commission Chairman Jim Hanson tried to explain as he opened a public hearing on the matter.
“We’ve been asked to take a look at the parcel and make recommendations,” he said, explaining the panel has to look at all aspects of the environment before forwarding the matter to the Town Board.
Hanson said he has spoken with the DEP about making some 15 acres surrounding the Laurel Woods housing development hiking only, leaving the remaining 812 acres up for discussion.
But no decision has been made, Hanson said. In fact, the panel is keeping the hearing open until the beginning of the next meeting on Wednesday, July 16, allowing people to submit comments and materials in writing to the town offices at 45 Comeau Drive, Woodstock, NY 12498 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. The commission will make a recommendation to the Town Board, which will either accept or reject it.
Hanson cited recent studies showing the deer have decimated small growth in the area and said the DEP recommends hunting to cull the population. But that didn’t stop many area residents from complaining that hunting in the area has disturbed their peace and quiet.
The trouble began earlier this year after it was discovered the DEP, which oversees the Ashokan Reservoir watershed, opened an 828-acre parcel to all forms of recreation, including hunting.
Town officials considered the matter resolved back in 2002 when they recommended limited hunting, mostly for deer. The DEP did nothing until late last year, when it started opening the parcel and advertising it on its website of available recreation land.
The DEP had sent a letter to Supervisor Jeremy Wilber seeking input, but Wilber thought the agency was going to implement the 2002 recommendations and didn’t respond to the letter.
The Environmental Commission recently recommended a 35-acre DEP parcel near Sickler Road be limited to hiking only, noting that land is not very accessible or conducive to hunting. The Town Board adopted that recommendation in June.
Nancy Butler-Ross, one of the first to bring the matter to the town’s attention, urged the commission to limit any hunting to deer and include 1,500-foot buffers from homes. She questioned whether a draft DEP map shown at the hearing was purposely vague about the number of homes bordering the parcel.
“We ask that you recommend hiking only as you did on the Sickler Road parcel,” she said.
“I feel like a chopped liver sandwich,” area resident Shiela Isenberg said, explaining she is the chopped liver and the DEP lands around her are like slices of Rye bread. “I respect hunters. It’s ok. I agree with what they do. I just feel we shouldn’t open this 800-plus acre parcel of land to hunting and hiking.”
Ed Sanders said he believed something more sinister is afoot. “It seems to me a pro-forma deal was struck between the DEP and the WEC chair” to create a small parcel for hiking and have the rest open for hunting. “I’ve got people dressed up like they’re in Vietnam, like they’re going to go stab a deer.”
Resident Orli Auslander is concerned about the effects of lead bullets. “When a bullet is fired, it gets so hot, the lead is actually evaporated.” she said. “Ten thousand acres of hunting in Ulster County is enough.”
Millions for state economy
Joe Leone, former president of the Federated Sportsmen’s Club of Ulster County, came armed with facts and figures. He backed up the DEP claims that overpopulated deer are devastating the small growth in the woods. He also said that hunters contribute $690 million a year to the state economy.
Pond Road resident Steve Morris said the land should be kept exactly like it is and the town should allow hunting. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it takes to get a hunting license,” Morris said. “It’s certainly easier to get a driver’s license.”
But Upper Pond Road resident Jason Lesko isn’t so keen on the numbers touted by Leone and said keeping Yankeetown Pond off limits from hunting isn’t going to negatively affect the economy. Instead, Lesko thinks using coyotes to curb the deer population might make more sense than declaring open season on one of their only predators.
No matter what ultimately happens, resident Ed Bloom is worried about the amount of traffic on Charlie Spanlake Road, a private road off Pond Road that runs mostly parallel to the north side of Yankeetown Pond.
Dharmaware owner Erik Holmlin urged the commission to recommend barring hunting from all DEP lands within Woodstock. “There are already enough places for hunting,” he said, noting customers always ask him about safe places to hike in town.
Councilman Jay Wenk said the town needs to look out for its people and feels hunting doesn’t go along with that mission. “There is an overriding issue for government above all else. It’s the health, welfare and safety of the citizens of this town. I’m not at all confident hunting is safe.” Wenk also defended the work of the commission. “These people are doing what they are appointed to do. They are presenting the issue. They are giving the public the opportunity to speak.”
The Environmental Commission next meets at 7 p.m. July 16 in the town offices, 45 Comeau Drive.