Back and Forth on Hunting

Jane Bimson

    A petition calling for East Hampton Town to prohibit waterfowl hunting on Montauk’s Fort Pond, submitted to the town board last month, prompted a discussion at a board work session on Dec. 18.
    A number of pondfront residents had signed the petition circulated by a neighbor, Jane Bimson, who is an advertising sales representative for The East Hampton Star. Board members had requested information from the town’s Department of Land Acquisition and Management, which was provided by Andy Gaites.
    The majority of the pond’s bottomland is owned by the town — 176 acres. Five acres of bottomland are owned by the state, three acres by a group called Fort Pond Partners, and one acre by another private individual.
    According to Mr. Gaites’s report to the board, the land has not been included on a list in the town code of areas open to hunting.
    As owner of the bottomland, the town could enact restrictions on what can happen there, such as where, or how many, duck blinds could be anchored. It is less clear whether the town could say “no hunting” on the pond. Mr. Gaites told the board, however, that the State Department of Environmental Conservation said town officials could designate Fort Pond as a “no-discharge” zone, barring the use of firearms.
    “If I were to describe how long people have been hunting on Fort Pond, people would say generations,” Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said.
    “There are too many people” surrounding the pond nowadays, said Ms. Bimson, who attended the Dec. 18 meeting. “Make it a safe zone for geese, ducks, and swans.”
    “And people on boats,” said Chris Behan, Ms. Bimson’s brother, also a Montauk resident.
    Last year, Ms. Bimson had told the board, Steven LiPani, another Montauker, was out fishing on the pond when young hunters shot in his direction.
    East Hampton Town Police Chief Edward Ecker, who was at last week’s meeting for other business, confirmed that the incident involving Mr. LiPani had been reported, but said he knew of no other similar incidents. Police have, however, received calls about shots being fired, he said.
    “At the time of this incident, these individuals were engaged in a legal activity that they were doing legally,” James Grimes, a Montauk resident and hunter, told the board. He said he had helped train some of the young hunters in hunting practices and safety.
    Mr. Grimes suggested that Mr. LiPani might also be at fault for the incident. People “have to be considerate and respectful of every other person,” he said. “Hunters have to be considerate of property owners,” he said. And others using the pond “have got to be respectful of someone hunting legally.”
    Hunting season for ducks lasts only between 30 and 45 days, he said. The board, said Mr. Grimes, shouldn’t ban hunting on Fort Pond “because the people living on the pond don’t like the sound of gunfire.”
    “Fort Pond . . . is probably one of the most accessible ponds in Montauk,” Mr. Grimes said, and is used by a handicapped youth. “This is the only place in East Hampton that he can go down and shoot.”
    “I think the state law — for safety — is you have to be 500 feet from any residence,” Mr. Ecker said. However, hunters shooting across the pond could position themselves closer than that to a house, as long as there was 500 feet of clear area in the direction they were shooting.
    The range of a shotgun, said Mr. Wilkinson, in answer to a question from Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, is “45 to 50 yards, at most. After that, it dissipates,” he said.
    Councilwoman Sylvia Overby asked if there were “alternative sites in Montauk” for waterfowl hunting.
    “Plenty,” Ms. Bimson answered her.
    “In all fairness, every standard can be applied to those sites, as well,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
    If lots around the pond are now mostly developed, Ms. Overby said, “then maybe something has to give on the other side. If there are alternative sites, then I would like to consider those alternatives.”
    Ms. Quigley said she lacked information on which to base a decision — the number of hunters desirous of using Fort Pond, for instance. And, she said, “If that’s a part of how people have enjoyed the area, then I don’t want to just flippantly say stop. It’s a careful analysis that has to be made.”
    “I happen to live near a duck blind, and so I hear the duck blind shots, the shotgun shots going off. I don’t have a problem with it. You bought there,” Ms. Quigley said.
    Mr. Wilkinson asked if “absent of this unfortunate event that happened last year, would we be discussing this?”
    “I think so,” Ms. Bimson told him, “because my neighbors — they don’t want hunting, and this brought it all to a head.”
    In a letter dated Dec. 18, Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, asked the town board to close the pond to waterfowl hunting, in light of the support of residents around the pond and the availability of other hunting locations. “Not all possible uses are appropriate for all locations,” he wrote, adding that the interests of various user groups “must be weighed and accommodated.”
    But, the letter said, as “Fort Pond is completely encircled by dense residential, commercial, and industrial development . . . the real and possible impacts of waterfowl hunting — as well as the potential for conflict with other user groups and homeowners — are elevated.”
    Zachary Cohen, the chairman of the town’s nature preserve committee, suggested the uses of Fort Pond might be taken up by his committee, which could craft a management plan for the site, as it does for other town-owned lands. The committee could explore the pertinent legal and safety issues, he said. One recommendation, Mr. Cohen suggested, would be to do what the town trustees do regarding trustee-owned bodies of water and institute a permit system for duck blinds, limiting their number and proscribing their locations.
    One audience member, Naomi Salz, also weighed in on the issue. “It’s hard to believe,” she said, that in light of the recent mass shooting in Connecticut “we’re sitting here talking about guns being used so freely.”
    “Accidents do happen,” she said. “Guns kill people. And if somebody wants a duck, they should go to Waldbaum’s.”
    “And we should all sit at home and play computer games where we kill each other,” Ms. Quigley replied. “The point being, is at least you’re outside. And outside is better than inside.”