Proposed city code change addresses deer bow hunting in Petersburg

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Petersburg officials are tackling a potential problem prompted by a recent state hunting regulation change: Bow hunting of the plentiful deer that roam this Southeast town.

Unless a gap in the municipal code is addressed, bow-and-arrow kills will be legal in residential areas during the two-week deer hunting season that begins in mid-October. Shooting guns in neighborhoods is prohibited but city laws do not ban the use of other kinds of lethal weapons, such as bow and arrows, crossbows, spears and slingshots.

And that breach has city leaders, hunters, archery enthusiasts and others worried about public safety, as well as unfair hunting of the resident Sitka blacktail deer that have grown accustomed to people.

To address the matter, the Public Safety Advisory Board will submit proposed municipal code modifications to the city council Tuesday.

''In essence, the city now allows people to shoot a deer in their own backyards,'' said board President Lloyd Thynes. ''It's an ethics issue as well as a safety issue. Obviously, we don't want arrows flying around town.''

The concern emerged in response to a regulation change by the Alaska Board of Game that affects the city of 3,200. This year the panel opened up the area to deer hunting to make the practice consistent with other big game regulations on Mitkof Island. Hunting moose and black bears is already allowed within the city limits, although discharge of firearms is allowed only in certain secluded areas.

It's the first time since the mid-1970s that deer hunting has been allowed in Petersburg, said Bruce Dinneford, regional management coordinator for the Alaska Fish and Game Department's wildlife conservation division. Hunting was banned on Mitkof Island and surrounding areas of the Panhandle following severe winters that drastically reduced the deer population.

The region has slowly reopened as the numbers rebounded. Last fall, the game board agreed with a public proposal to open Petersburg to deer hunting again -- before the city had considered the effect on weapons use.

''As far as hunting goes, I can't think of any situation such as this,'' Dinneford said.

The dilemma centers on the deer that have adapted to humans, boldly wandering through populated sections, including downtown. Some residents even consider the animals a nuisance that destroy gardens and have little fear of humans.

''They're almost like pets,'' said City Councilman Barry Bracken, who brought the issue to the council. ''The difference here is that there are no pet bears and no pet moose in Petersburg.''

The deer's domestication makes them an easy target.

Earlier this year, an arrow-pierced deer was spotted in a Petersburg neighborhood for several days -- a shooting that outraged local archers, said Brian Lynch, vice president of the Devil's Thumb Archers. The animal had to be euthanized because its shoulder wound had developed a bad infection.

''That was really distressing for us, bad PR for us,'' Lynch said.

Citizen protection is a greater consideration, said Police Chief Dale Stone, a department liaison to the safety advisory board.

''It's primarily a public safety issue but at the same time we want to protect our relatively tame deer,'' Stone said. ''Our desire is to address everybody's concerns.''

The advisory board is calling for the creation of a new ordinance dealing with the discharge of weapons other than firearms, including bow and arrows. The use of such weapons would be allowed only in areas outside a quarter mile of homes, established roads and the airport property.

Archery ranges would be allowed, however, in backyards and other populated areas.

Before any formal action can take effect, the council must hold a public hearing on the matter.

Bracken said the proposed changes are a viable stopgap until a permanent solution can be considered by the game board next year, when the panel is scheduled to take up Southeast hunting issues. He expects his colleagues to agree.

''I think the majority of the council will address the public safety concern,'' he said. ''I see no reason to object to it.''

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