Leyden mulls over proposed hunting restriction bylaw

  • Leyden residents debate a proposed bylaw that would require hunters to have written permission to hunt on private or municipally owned land at Town Hall Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Leyden resident Bob Anson speaks during a public hearing for a proposed bylaw that would require hunters to have written permission to hunt on private or municipally owned land at Town Hall Monday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 07, 2017

LEYDEN — Should hunters be required to get written permission from landowners before hunting on private or municipally owned land?

More than 100 people gathered at Town Hall considered that question Monday during a tense, two-hour public hearing for a proposed hunting restriction bylaw. A townwide vote is planned for next month.

“This is a personal stab at us. That’s what this is,” said Leyden resident Digger Neipp, following a slideshow presentation by Barbara Wallace, who authored a citizens petition for the bylaw.

The proposed bylaw, placed on the Jan. 15 town meeting agenda, would require hunters to get written permission from landowners or government officials before firing a weapon on private or public land.

If approved, offenders would be fined $200 per violation and any weapon used in the offense would be confiscated by police.

“I’ve really made a huge effort to understand the culture of where we live, and I love it. It would be my real goal to create a dialogue,” said Wallace, who moved into town 20 years ago, and has possessed a hunting license for 15 years. She stressed the law isn’t designed to suppress hunting; rather, to give landowners more power.

“There’s no one on this team, or anyone we’ve spoken to, who thinks that hunting is not OK. We all love Leyden and we all love nature. It would give an opportunity for the landowner and hunter ... to meet,” Wallace said, pointing to other Massachusetts towns — Blandford and Tolland — that enacted similar laws in the 1980s.

All hunters would have to carry two copies of signed permission documents at all times, displaying one on their car’s dashboard and holding another in a pocket. Enforcement would occur mostly through residents contacting Leyden police. Such a law would make it difficult for out of town hunters who don’t have local connections to hunt within town limits, Wallace argued.

“I just want to go on the record that MassWildlife would go on the record as not supporting this,” said Ralph Taylor, Connecticut Valley district supervisor. “From the agency’s standpoint, we would like to see nothing that restricts hunting.”

Taylor noted drastically increased deer populations in other Massachusetts towns that have hunting restrictions.

Others raised concerns that the petition would make it difficult for hunters to effectively hunt. For example, if a hunter with permission shot an animal on one parcel, what would happen if the wounded animal fled onto land owned by someone else who didn’t give permission?

“Here’s what I don’t like — I don’t like someone telling me how I can enjoy my property,” said David Freeley, who owns 220 acres in Leyden but doesn’t live in town.

Tense discussion

Throughout her presentation, Wallace was interrupted often. And later, during time allotted for public comment, discussion became so tense that Police Chief Daniel Galvis walked halfway into the room and stood in the center aisle. Town officials struggled to control the conversation.

“This is my meeting. We will play by my rules. I’ve been very patient in trying to let everyone speak,” said Selectboard Chairman Lance Fritz over the din. Amid the controversy, a few people called for unity, like Paul O’Neil, a local resident who said he’d previously worked for the state Department of Fish and Game.

“I’ve been to a lot of these meetings, where you’ve got two sides and they don’t trust each other. They’re motivated by fear. You have hunters who are afraid of losing their rights. On the other side, you have people who are genuinely scared, and may not have grown up with the same traditions,” O’Neil said.

“We need to keep the dialogue going. And keep talking to each other. I just want everyone to treat everyone with respect,” he said.

The question will be decided once and for all at the Jan. 15 special town meeting, which will be held at the Town Hall.