On Sept. 6, local citizens expressed concern about bow hunting in the areas at the Old Town City Council meeting. Since 2008, hunting regulations on Marsh Island have been seasonally lifted from early autumn up until wintertime.
Though the University of Maine itself does not allow weapons on the property, many neighborhoods surrounding the school provide student housing, where that rule does not technically apply. Not only does an extended hunting season pose a threat to wildlife but potentially members of the community as well.
There have been multiple encounters with hunters, not only beside University property but within its confines as well. Patricia Lech, a local citizen who has lived in Old Town for over 20 years addressed the council with a statement.
“What brought me here today was learning of hunters who had planted a ‘deer garden’ ona property that borders university property…150 yards from the university family housing garden, 200 yards from the family housing playground, and less than 250 yards from where university housing was torn down to expand the daycare,” Lech described.
Another issue is that hunting laws that are specific to established zones do not currently exist, specifically in the residential areas of Marsh Island. Lech pointed out that in more populated portions of town, the use of fireworks is only authorized for certain days of the week or times of day. The city is certainly capable of putting zone-based ordinances into place to ensure public safety in that situation, but the presence of lethal weaponry in an active part of town seems to go unnoticed.
Despite Old Town’s population of over 7,000 people, hunting is allowed at any time or part of the city throughout those few months. Lech also noted that the interactions she has had with local hunters raised far more alarm than the sound of fireworks would.
“The encounters with hunters are very unnerving. I don’t believe the majority of hunters would even consider hunting in a populated area, much less oppose reasonable regulations around hunting in these areas,” Lech said.
Janet Morgan, a resident of 75 years, states that Marsh Island has always been distinguished as an animal refuge; such is posted upon every bridge entrance. Her home is within the R1 residential confines of a dense area.
Morgan recalls her father being concerned about the deer 35 years ago, as they were plentiful at the time and ate his Hosta plants. This was during the period when some of the 20 houses that are now between Farm Rd. and the University Park entrance were being built.
The period for bow hunting was initially established as two weeks out of the year, but eventually increased to be from Sept. 9 until December. Morgan also emphasized how deer would seek refuge in her yard only five years ago, but what is left of the species has since been hiding away.
“I am not opposed to hunting, but I believe a compromise could happen by allowing the bow hunters two weeks of hunting, with notification per the law. The law now is too much for me to tolerate,” said Morgan.
The initial intention behind granting permission to hunt during that period was to avoid deer overpopulation for public health/safety reasons. An abundance of the species in one area could potentially lead to car accidents or the spreading of disease.
Currently, the population near forests owned by UMaine appears to have decreased significantly since the law was enacted, to the point where seeing a deer in your backyard is a rarity. The actual numbers have not been monitored in recent years, thus making the primary objective behind controlling the amount of deer superfluous.
“Each year there are many new students, faculty, and residents who should be alerted to the fact that hunting is occurring on and near trails. Does the city feel a duty to warn of a hazardous situation they created?” questioned Lech.
As a result of the efforts of Lech, Morgan, and other devoted neighbors, the council has agreed to reassess the situation at this time.
The next meeting of the Old Town City Council will be held on the first Monday of October. Those who have similar issues regarding the current law around bow hunting are welcome to attend and share their perspective.