Despite objections from numerous neighbors, the Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC) voted to recommend to the town board that hunting be allowed on a majority of an 828-acre New York City-owned parcel surrounding Yankeetown Pond.
Accepting no further comment, the commission cited a growing deer population that it said is destroying low forest growth as the rationale and noted the area is largely upland and not conducive to hiking. The recommendation gets forwarded to the Town Board, which will either accept or reject it, and will then communicate that decision to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
At previous meetings and at a public hearing July 2, area residents said gunfire disturbs their right to peace and quiet and they were concerned hikers trying to enjoy the scenery could not coexist with hunters.
Jon Heppner was the only commission member who voted against the recommendation and one member, Bill Dubliner, was absent. Heppner said he believes the land should be only open to bow hunting as is the case on other city lands. “I really think a compromise should be reached. We should explore different options,” Heppner said.
But WEC Chairman Jim Hanson said he wasn’t sure bow hunting would result in a high enough level of deer management because there would be fewer hunters on the land. “In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service found it to be degenerated forest that was seriously overgroused,” Hanson said. “A forest like that begins to become absent of bird life. It becomes hospitable to deer, bear and field mice.”
The commission did recommend the DEP actively pursue forest management, designate a buffer around the pond and place signs warning of private property 1000 feet from the northern edge of the parcel.
The DEP, which regulates lands in the Ashokan Reservoir watershed, opened the land to hunting and hiking late last year. The town thought the matter was resolved in 2002 when it recommended limited hunting on the land. The DEP did nothing until late last year, when it started opening the land to all forms of recreation, including hunting and hiking.
The DEP had sent a letter to Supervisor Jeremy Wilber seeking comment, but Wilber thought the agency was going to implement the 2002 recommendations and didn’t respond to the letter. Responding to recent complaints from neighbors, the town forwarded the matter to the Environmental Commission for review. In the meantime, the DEP agreed to remove the land from a website containing recreational lands.
The commission recently recommended a 35-acre city-owned parcel near Sickler Road be opened to hiking only because it wasn’t conducive to hunting. The Town Board later adopted that recommendation.
“A couple of weeks of deer hunting as long as people know when it is…I don’t think that’s a bad idea,” said commission member Grace Bowne.
While neighbors are concerned about the potential of hunting nine months out of the year, Hanson said the land is only conducive to hunting big game like deer and bear. The town cannot limit hunting to certain seasons. Responding to safety concerns, Hanson said he could not find a single incident of a hiking being injured by a hunter in the area.
“I’ve heard a lot of heat and not a lot of light shed by those who don’t want hunting,” member David Gross said. “My responsibility is to be the best steward to the environment as I can.” Responding to safety concerns, Gross said, “This is the country. This is not New York City. This is not Central Park. You’ve got to have some responsibility.”
The commission recommended closing a thin sliver of land along the south side of the pond to any access because of pond’s sensitivity. “The ecosystem around that pond is totally different,” Hanson said. “The peat around the shoreline contains sensitive habitat.”
The commission recommended another parcel along the pond’s southern edge, totaling about 13 acres, be open to hiking only, which prohibits anyone from carrying in a boat. “The only access for fishing and boating is on private property on Pond Road,” Hanson said.
Some neighbors wanted the parcel closed completely because they are concerned people will walk through private property to access the land, but Hanson said that is a matter to be resolved between the residents and law enforcement.
Further, he said, no trapping will be allowed on any of the land in question.
“It’s very clear and it’s been reiterated to the DEP. We’re not going to change our stance that no trapping is going to be allowed on DEP lands within the town of Woodstock,” Hanson said.