By Carla Lucas , Correspondent
There was only one item on the agenda of the Franklin Township Work Session on Wednesday, October 13: the Franklin Deer Management Association (FDMA). At stake was the approval or denial of the organization’s agreement with the Township to hunt Franklin Township’s 200+ acres of public preserves to cull the deer population.
What entailed was a three-plus hour discussion, a resolution with 15+/-specific terms, created through approximately a dozen amendments to the original resolution. The final result is the FDMA was granted permission to bow hunt with restrictions on all four Franklin Township preserves and have the standard PA shotgun season on two of the four preserves. In the 3-2, vote Eric Brindle, Dick Whipple, and Norman Hughes voted in favor, and Paul Overton and Nan Palmer voted against the motion. The agreement will be in effect for one year, and must be renewed each year.
There was agreement by both sides that yes there probably was an overabundance of deer in Franklin Township and some form of hunting was probably necessary. The contention between the board members was the scope of the agreement and providing for the safety of all who use the preserves and the properties bordering the preserves.
Franklin Township currently owns four preserves paid for through a combination of state and county grants, the Township’s open space fund, and also donations from builders as part of development agreements. The properties include:
- White Clay Crescent, (29+/- acres) accessed from Chesterville Road
- Banffshire Preserve (61+/- acres), along the unpaved section of Creek Road
- Goodwin Preserve (19+/- acres), accessed at the intersection of Route 841, Schoolhouse Road, and Church Road
- Franklin Preserve (92 +/- acres), on Parsons Road, adjacent to Crossan Park.
A fifth preserve, Peacedale Preserve, is located in Franklin Township, but is owned and managed by the Natural Lands Trust. A hunt club of about 10 people are permitted to hunt both archery and shotgun as permitted by the PA Game Laws. They are required to pass a proficiency test, wear identification, register at the site, and mark on a map where they are hunting.
Earlier this year Supervisor Eric Brindle started discussions about the possibility of having hunters on the preserve properties in meetings open to the public. Through email and word-of-mouth interested residents started attending. The result of those meetings was the formation of the FDMA. The organization set about creating by-laws and procedures based on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s hunting laws plus the by-laws of similar, successful hunting groups.
The FDMA limited membership to 30 members. All members must hold a valid Pennsylvania hunting license, be experienced hunters, and pay annual dues to cover the cost of insurance and other administrative costs. Board member Eric Brindle will act as the liaison between the Board and the FDMA.
In their responsibility as supervisors to protect the public, Overton and Palmer researched other local municipalities’ hunting agreements and tried to incorporate the ideas from these organizations into Franklin Township’s policies, many, but not all of which were successful.
The final agreement is more stringent than the Pennsylvania Game Laws and includes the following provisions:
- Archery hunting season follows the state calendar for this region, which allows bow hunting from October 2 through November 27, and December 27 to January 29, 2010. Archery hunting is not allowed on Sundays, as per the state game laws. On Franklin Township preserve lands archery hunting will be allowed from dawn to 10 a.m. then 2 p.m. to dusk, Monday through Saturday. The preserves will remain hunting-free for users who do not want to be in the preserve when hunters are there, during peak-use hours.
- Banffshire and Franklin Preserves will be closed to the public for the two weeks following Thanksgiving for the state’s shotgun season.
- Hunters must pass a hunting proficiency/skills test and have taken the hunting/trapper safety course (required for the license) and if bow hunting, the newer bow hunting safety course.
- Only FDMA hunters, no guests or junior hunters, can hunt on Franklin’s public preserves.
- Zones will be established in each preserve and FDMA members will be assigned to those zones with no more than one hunter per 10 wooded acres.
- Maps will be installed in the parking lots at each preserve which indicates the zones. When hunters are actively hunting, they must mark the zone on the map so that others using the preserve will know hunters are present.
- Hunters must register in advance for zones where they will hunt. This information will be posted on the FDMA website and the public can access the information from a link on the Township’s website.
- While actively hunting on preserve lands, FDMA members will carry identification, wear an FDMA armband and place a FDMA vehicle identification card in their parked vehicles.
- No driving of deer will be permitted on preserve lands during hunting season.
- Occupied dwellings will include residences as well as barns, stables, and turn-out sheds for safety zones and setbacks.
- Setback allowances (distances from where shots can be taken) were adjusted to include 450-feet from residential playgrounds, 50-feet from trails, and 450-feet from the playing fields in Crossan Park.
- The program shall be evaluated after the season ends.
- A Deer Committee, comprised of hunters and non-hunters will be formed to guide hunting on preserve lands going forward.
During public comment, those opposed to the hunting expressed outrage that hunting was being allowed on open space lands paid for with local tax dollars. Many residents present had property bordering the preserves and were concerned about their safety as well as the safety of their horses and pets. A youth soccer coach was also concerned about the safety of children in Crossan Park as many times siblings enter the wooded areas around the playing fields.
In favor of the hunting, one resident reminded the audience that hunting is a legitimate recreational activity. Comments included that these preserves were hunted safely as private lands for many years. Also, allowing hunting in a regulated way will improve safety as well as stop people from illegally hunting the land.
“I think we’re jumping into this too quick,” said Overton. “It seems unbalanced. I don’t want to stop it, I just whittle it down. It seems unfair that 30 people are going to get the run of our preserves for four months. It’s more like deer management is a benefit of a recreational hunting program.”
“This is about local hunters coming together to manage (deer on) the properties,” countered Eric Johnson, Communications Officers for the FDMA. “There’s been a lot of speculation and assumptions. We are not rushing into this blind; not doing this on our own. The group would like to be able to hunt, but we’re not trying to force it. We used examples of successful clubs and modeled ours after a number of them.”
Although the resolution passed, hunting will not start immediately on the preserves. In a telephone interview after the meeting Johnson said the organization will hold an emergency meeting soon to discuss the results of the resolution. There is still work to be done in order to adhere to the amendments in the resolution.
“Hunting is a right, not a privilege,” said Johnson. “The property owner, in this case the township, dictates what you can do. We want to work towards mutual respect and understanding. We’re going to be cautious and tread lightly and begin to build acceptance.”