Makes decisive movesCouncil sets 1st half of hunting season, says no to reimburising DEM, no to vehicles at Beane Point
The Town Council took action on three items, and made a separate recommendation, on events that have recently been in the news during its Wednesday, March 19, meeting.
As a result of what was by far the most contentious discussion of the night, the council voted, 3 to 2, to set dates for the 2014 shotgun and muzzleloader hunting season only and hold off on the second half of the season in 2015 until it is known when, or if, the deer cull will be rescheduled for next year. The council traditionally sets the dates for the entire season at this time, but First Warden Kim Gaffet suggested waiting to set the dates for the entire 2014-2015 season based on a recommendation of the Department of Environmental Management. The DEM suggested the town wait until more details could be hammered out about next year’s cull, which is designed to reduce the island’s deer herd.
However, after hearing several arguments from two members of the audience, Second Warden Ken Lacoste made a motion to consider setting dates up until Jan. 1, 2015, which was then seconded and ultimately passed by the 3 to 2 vote. Councilors Gary Ryan, Lacoste and Chris Warfel voted in favor and First Warden Kim Gaffett and Norris Pike voted nay.
In another motion related to the deer cull, the council also voted to support a bill to allow the use of what are known as “collector’s permits.” This bill would allow cities and towns across Rhode Island to directly contract with a specific agency for natural resource management programs, such as a deer cull. As it stands now, the DEM has sole authority over the herd on Block Island, but this measure would give New Shoreham, if it so chose, the ability to contract with an outside agency — including its own hunters — to perform an action such as a deer cull. It would also also allow that town to permit the use of suppressors. First Warden Kim Gaffett said this bill had the support of the R.I. Attorney General’s office.
On another matter related to this year’s delayed deer cull, Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla updated the members of the council and the small audience in attendance that the town has taken the position that it will not reimburse the DEM over any expenses invoiced by White Buffalo, the non-profit company that had been contracted to carry out the deer cull this year. The total amount of the invoices was about $16,000, said Merolla, who added that the town’s position was relayed to the DEM at a meeting that was held on the mainland on Thursday, March 13.
Merolla said that, in essence, it was the opinion of the town that White Buffalo had failed to carry out terms specified in the contract, specifically about the setting of bait before certain town officials, including the police chief, were notified and involved.
In another move, the council voted to oppose any construction that might bring vehicle traffic to Beane Point (also known as Hippocampus). U.S. Fish and Wildlife has an education facility on Beane Point, but land access by vehicle has become impossible given that the access road has been made impassable by a series of storms in the past few years.
Fish and Wildlife has opened a public comment period seeking ideas for the access road, which they call the West Beach Sand Trail. The council’s concern was that a newly built access road would have a negative impact on the fragile ecosystems on the beach and on Great Salt Pond, which is both recreational facility and revenue-producing (through clamming).
“I smell a rat,” said island resident Chris Blane.
Blane was reacting to a suggestion that would delay setting the dates of the island’s hunting season until more information is known about when the deer cull might be rescheduled for next year.
“Assuming the cull is rescheduled, it will affect when the hunting dates are set,” said Gaffett. “We don’t know when the cull will be, so it doesn’t make sense to [set the dates],” said Gaffett. She said the DEM, at a meeting that was held on March 13, recommended a “buffer” period between the cull and the island’s hunting season. Gaffett said that delaying the discussion on the schedule would not have a negative impact because the DEM was willing to allow the island to send its schedule at a later time. Gaffett then suggested setting the archery and the pheasant hunting dates, reiterating that “it doesn’t make sense to set our firearm hunting dates without knowing when the cull will be.”
That’s when Blane stood up, said he smelled a rat, and asked if the council had it in writing from the DEM that would assure the island could send its schedule in later than usual. Gaffett said that the town had received assurance from the highest ranking officials at the DEM that it could do so.
“I don’t see why it would be a problem to schedule the dates now and then reschedule,” asked Councilor Gary Ryan.
“It’s very hard to change the dates,” said Gaffett.
Blane suggested splitting the season. Islander Cathy Payne raised her hand and said “I’m embarrassed that you’re not listening to the hunters! The local hunters won’t deal with you!” She then pointed out councilor Norris Pike and said, “Norris, you don’t understand! You sold all your land and you don’t understand!”
The normally reserved and courteous Pike said, “So did you, so shut up.”
When Gaffett recommended setting the dates for the pheasant season, which was a total of seven days from November through January, Blane made the unusual move to ask to reduce the number of days because the pheasant population seemed “dramatically” low. The council unanimously voted to schedule just three days, Nov. 26 and Dec. 17 and Dec. 26 for pheasant hunting.
It was Lacoste who recommended establishing the first half of the hunting season, and after taking a brief break to see what dates were available, the council voted 3 to 2 to set the following dates for firearm hunting for 2014 only:
Nov. 3 – 7; Nov. 12 – 14; Nov. 17 – 21; and Nov. 24 and 25. Dec. 1 – 5; Dec. 8 – 12; Dec. 15 – 16; Dec. 18 – 19.
The language of the “Collector’s Permit” bill that was before the Town Council on Wednesday was as follows: “This bill would allow the Department of Environmental Management to issue a collector’s permit to an expanded scientific and biological field of study in management of wildlife populations and in that effort the potential legal use of firearm suppressors to maximize effectiveness in specimen harvest. This modification is intended to allow for an extremely narrow authorization for efficiency of directed and discrete management strategies in control of wildlife that have impacted the balance of values inherent to healthy ecosystems or nuisance damages.”
After this language was read, Second Warden Lacoste said, “This bill is something we need to support.” And Councilor Pike said, “It seems to be exactly what we need.”
Gaffett made a motion to ask State Rep. Donna Walsh and State Sen. Susan Sosnowski “to support and if need be to sponsor the bill.”
When Councilor Chris Warfel asked if the bill, as written, allowed the state to override any decision the town may make, and Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla said, “No, no.”
The council voted 4 to 1 to approve support for the bill.
West Beach Sand Trail
After a brief slide show from Committe for the Great Salt Pond President Sven Risom and member Kevin Hoyt that detailed the rich recreational, ecological and economic benefits that the Great Salt Pond brings to Block Island, the council voted, in essence, not to support the rebuilding of an access road to Beane Point.
The old road sits on the outer northwest-western edge of the GSP, and Risom pointed out that there was been a great deal of damage done to the area due to several storms in the past few years. Fish & Wildlife is seeking public input on a variety of options — everything from doing nothing to restoring the roadway — and the council decided that building a road, which would bring vehicle and foot traffic, might be too much for the fragile area.
“We do not support in any way the use of vehicles out there,” said Gaffett. “We need to stabilize what’s there. We need to protect the ecosystem.”
In the end, ther council voted to draft language that included not only what they would not like to see happen in that area, but also to include what they would like to occur.