Friday, February 5, 2016

Duck Hunting In Our Belle Isle Backyards?!

Last Sunday, January 31 at 7:15 a.m., residents living near the mouth of the canal leading to the Hoffner Bridge were awakened to the sound of shotguns discharging nearby. Upon investigating, they soon learned that these were duck hunters from Lake County, shooting dozens of the mallards that populate our Conway lakes. One Belle Isle resident was nearly hit by a shower of shotgun pellets in his backyard:

I have lived in Belle Isle my entire life, and to my knowledge this kind of incident has never before occurred on our lakes. Most Belle Isle residents, including our elected officials, believed that duck hunting was illegal in Belle Isle under our City Code, Section 4-1, which designates Belle Isle as a bird sanctuary and prohibits duck hunting within city limits. But this law was preempted by Florida Statute 379.104, which establishes a statewide right to hunt.

However, the Florida right to hunt is not absolute. Florida Statute 379.3001 tempers the right to hunt for "reasons of public safety, fish or wildlife management, or homeland security" on lands managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As discussed at the February 2 City Council meeting, these hunters presented a homeland security risk because of frequent low flying airplanes at the nearby airport, as well as a public safety risk from the hailstorms of high-velocity pellets falling on residential property.

Opposition to this backyard duck slaughter was shared by everyone at the meeting, including local hunters such as the owners of Oak Ridge Gun Range, who are both Belle Isle residents. Commissioner Readey, also a long-time hunter, expressed that this event was a tragedy - there is no sportsmanship in killing roosting ducks that have grown tame after years of feeding and sheltering by local duck lovers.

Aside from issues of safety and sportsmanship, this is a serious issue of local home value. Continued hunting in our Conway lakes could taint our City's public image and reduce demand for local homes, especially those on the lake. One witness to the hunting just purchased his Belle Isle home, and it's easy to wonder whether he would have chosen to go forward with the purchase knowing that hunting would happen in his own backyard.

Regular duck hunting season ended on January 31, but there is a youth season this weekend from February 6 to 7. Residents should be aware that there is a possibility of more hunting this weekend. After this weekend, there will be a wood duck season in September followed by another open season beginning in November. Refer to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for more info about waterfowl hunting seasons.

According to the information presented at the recent meeting, our city council is not able to address this problem alone because their hands are tied by state law. Although our city attorney and elected representatives are doing what they can to address the situation, a solution to this problem must come from at least a state level. Therefore, residents are encouraged to contact state representatives Mike Miller and Andy Gardiner to request their assistance in this matter.

For more information about this hunting issue, please see the recent WFTV report:

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