A majority of the East Hampton Town Board told members of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife last week that it was disinclined to entertain a one-weekend-day ban on hunting, for which the group has been agitating. The board cited overbrowsing, tick-borne illnesses, deer-vehicle collisions, and the proliferation of fencing in its decision.
At the same Aug. 20 meeting, the town attorney told the board that, based on previous legal decisions and discussions with counsel for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Association of Towns, the state’s Environmental Conservation Law precludes a municipality from enacting such a prohibition.
One member of the board was skeptical, however, and now asserts that the town attorney’s conclusion was incorrect. The board, Councilman Jeff Bragman said, has “every right to limit hunting as we see fit.”
John Jilnicki, the town attorney, told the board on Aug. 20 that Mark Sanza, the D.E.C.’s assistant counsel, had advised him that the Environmental Conservation Law provides that where hunting is allowed, municipalities “are precluded from adjusting the time limits on the hunting, absent some special legislation from the state.” He cited a section of the law pertaining to open hunting seasons of deer and bear stating that “big game may be taken any day of the week” in broadly outlined territories of the state.
But, Mr. Bragman said on Tuesday, “I’ve investigated the claim that we’re pre-empted from doing anything on town land. It’s obviously incorrect.” He pointed to the Hunting on Town Parklands article in the town code’s chapter on beaches and parks, which specifies whether shotgun hunting or bowhunting, and for what type of game, is permitted on parcels grouped in five “schedules” corresponding to the town’s school districts. The language in the code “shows that we already limit hunting on town property which we own,” he said. “We have designated as parkland, parks, C.P.F. properties . . . virtually all the open space which we own or manage.” That, he said, “gives us the absolute right to eliminate hunting as we see fit . . . and we already do it.”
A 1996 amendment to the Hunting on Town Parklands article states that “the Town Board desires to adopt management procedures to permit the fair and reasonable use of such lands by members of the public, whether for the hunting of game, or for other recreational pursuits.”
Another section of the beaches and parks chapter states that town parklands “shall be deemed ‘private lands’ pursuant to the provisions of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law . . . and such lands shall not be open to the general public for purposes of hunting except as expressly authorized herein.”
Each of these, Mr. Bragman contends, “makes it clear that on a broad range of properties, including [community preservation fund] lands and lands on which we own other rights like development or management, we have the right to declare them to be private and to regulate hunting.”
Following the Aug. 20 meeting, David Buda, a Springs resident, cited the same language in the town code, as well as a 2014 amendment to the Hunting on Town Parklands article that prohibits bow hunting of big game on town parklands where shotgun hunting is also allowed during the January shotgun season, to demonstrate that the town can assert jurisdiction. That amendment was adopted pursuant to municipal home rule law. (Mr. Buda’s wife, Carol Buda, is an advocate for wildlife and one of several residents who spoke in favor of a one-weekend-day ban at the meeting.)
The town’s hunting guide for 2019-20 states that “Local municipalities can’t pass local laws regulating hunting seasons, but can decide whether or not to permit hunting within their jurisdiction. . . . The local municipalities by local law and resolution can affirm which of their holdings are able to be hunted, and which are not.” The guide notes a change from previous seasons: “John’s Hole Accabonac Road Property has been removed from allowable hunting properties.”
“Elected town board members are certainly free to oppose a one-day weekend ban on hunting,” Mr. Buda wrote in an email on Friday. “But what they should not be allowed to do is rely to any extent on last-minute, fallacious jurisdictional legal arguments thrown into the mix by the town attorney based on faulty or incomplete research.”
Mr. Bragman also cited statements made in 2016 by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. with regard to hunting regulations on land in Southampton Town that was acquired with C.P.F. money. “While the state regulates hunting, the town owns the property,” Mr. Thiele told The Southampton Press that year, “so the town always has the right to decide if they want to allow hunting on the property.”
East Hampton does have the authority, “if it wanted to, to eliminate one weekend day of hunting,” Mr. Bragman asserted. “It is fully empowered to do that.”
Bill Crain, president of the Group for Wildlife, agreed. In an Aug. 21 email, he said that, while the group is disappointed in the board’s majority position, “we plan to reveal the errors in the board’s comments, including the false idea that the town lacks authority to regulate town-owned land. It clearly has this authority by state law. It can designate its properties as private and regulate them.”
Mr. Crain said that the Group for Wildlife would also pursue a project “to make the town more aware of the realities of hunting. We will gather information and hold forums and share information online. Hunting is more upsetting than many people think.”
Deer hunting with firearms was permitted from Jan. 6 to Jan. 31 this year, seven of those days falling on weekends. Members of the Group for Wildlife have gathered signatures on a petition seeking a one-weekend-day ban on hunting during the hunting season. As of yesterday, 689 had signed the petition, 619 of them residents of the town.
“I don’t think we could enact a townwide ban on hunting in any way,” Mr. Bragman said yesterday. “That’s the only way we’re pre-empted. We’re certainly not pre-empted from creating rules that limit hunting beyond what the state does on properties that we have designated to be private. The proof of that is that we’ve already enacted limits, and Southampton has done the same, and they’ve been on the books for years with no problem. . . . It’s pretty settled that by declaring certain lands private, we can control the hunting. We already do it.”
A call to the D.E.C. seeking clarification of its position with respect to municipal authority to ban hunting was not returned as of yesterday.