Hunting Suddenly Banned in Part of Los Padres National Forest
By J.R. Robbins
Fairfax, VA--(Ammoland.com)- The July 15th, 2011 online announcement was about as curt and non-explanatory as you could imagine:
“Los Padres National Forest officials announced that hunting will not be allowed within the Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area of the Santa Barbara Ranger District. The Forest Order was issued to provide for public safety and will remain in effect through February 29, 2012.”
And there was this, too: “Violators are subject to a $5,000 fine for an individual or $10,000 for an organization or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.”
At the bottom there was a big blue link to the actual order, but clicking on it took me to a “Page not found” message.
Other than the unexplained “public safety” issue, there was not one word about why hunting was suddenly banned on national forest land, whether the public had any chance to comment on the decision, how the ban might affect wildlife management in the area, or whether maps of the closed area were available.
Forest Service spokesperson Andrew Madsen gave us some more background. Although he did not know the total number of acres now closed to hunters, he described it this way: “There’s a road in the hills above Santa Barbara here (Paradise Road) and it goes from Highway 154 to the first river crossing—about six or seven miles, maybe a little more.”
Considering there is a potential $5,000 fine and jail sentence here for stepping one foot in the wrong place, let’s hope hunters have more precise information available. Madsen says there is.
“The District has a lot of extensive maps in that office, which is along the road, and folks are well aware they can go in there with questions. The front desk staff will help them.”
Although day-use recreation sites and residential areas are established along the road, the area has been used by hunters for generations. The District Ranger closed it because of “numerous complaints” from residents about hunters going into people’s yards.
“Jackrabbit hunters, for example,” said Madsen, “in pursuit of their prey are following them into areas where we can’t have them. Guns and folks don’t mix in those areas. It presents a safety problem.”
However, Madsen was not aware of any shooting accidents or injuries that came about as a result of hunting in the area. “I haven’t heard that it reached that point,” he said.
Asked how well the private land boundaries in the area are marked, Madsen said, “I don’t know whether there are any postings up there or not, but hunters have been using it for years. They are all pretty well aware of where they can hunt and where they should not be hunting.”
While trespassing complaints should be taken seriously, verifying that clear signage marking private land exists, or encouraging residents to call local law enforcement, would have been a much better option than a sudden, virtually unexplained closure of a traditional hunting area. Hunters try very hard to respect boundaries, but anyone who has hunted public land knows how inadequate signage can lead to a totally inadvertent step onto private property.
Moreover, this hunting ban was apparently put in place purely at the discretion of the Santa Barbara District Ranger. Asked if the public had any chance to comment on the decision before the ban was implemented, Madsen said, “Not that I’m aware of. I don’t believe there is a stipulation that we need to involve the public in closure orders.”
Whether there is a stipulation or not, a certain group of citizens about to be banned from using public land deserves to be included in the process. To exclude them is nothing short of arrogance.
Had he been given the chance to comment, here’s what Bob Tench, who has lived in the area for 16 years, would have said:
“In a good year I may hunt the area 5-10 times. This decision will remove my only known spot to hunt band-tailed pigeons. It was the closest place to my home to hunt dove and quail. The next closest place I know is about a 75-mile drive. I will note that the closed zone is only ½ mile from the road with plenty of forest outside that zone, but the terrain beyond that is generally so rugged that it is inaccessible for hunting.
“I have lived in the area for 16 years and receive the local newspaper, watch the local TV stations, and read local Internet news sites. To my recollection, I have not heard of any hunting-related accidents or chronic problems in the area. As a point of comparison, the local news talks every summer about people being hurt swimming or hiking in the same area. There are also frequent stories of hikers getting lost and requiring rescue. Therefore, there is news coverage for what goes on there.
“I called the forest service office to get more clarification on the location and was given a vague description of the area. I asked if the area’s specifics would be posted on the Web and the answer was unknown. The person on the phone then just told me to avoid a one-mile strip of land in the area.
“I will mention again that I try to keep up with the local media and I did not see any notification about this closure prior to the announcement itself.”
While nobody advocates trespass (even one hunter who commits it makes us all look bad), no hard figures were offered as to how many complaints were filed, or if they were all confirmed violations. Beyond that, the relevant agency cannot give out “vague descriptions” to hunters trying their best to obey the law. And while a government agency may be obligated to address residents’ complaints, the process needs to involve all affected parties. A sudden, blanket closure of public land to hunting is a rash, knee-jerk reaction.
Finally, with a $5,000 fine and possible imprisonment for violations, a better effort needs to be made to inform people about the decision than a tersely-worded announcement on the Los Padres web site.
The February 29, 2012 end date for the order, “could have been shorter,” Madsen said, but the basic idea was to make sure the ban applied to all possible hunting seasons. It’s unclear whether hunting will be closed beyond that date, although rest assured NRA will take steps to find a better solution than the ban. In the meantime, California hunters are urged to call the Santa Barbara Ranger District office at 805-967-3481 and express how they feel about being thrown off public land without a chance to voice their concerns.
The Los Padre National Forest encompasses 1.75 million acres along California’s central coast between San Jose and Los Angeles.
Link to the original Forest Service Announcement: https://tiny.cc/w5w36
For the most up-to-date information about your hunting rights there’s just one source: www.NRAhuntersrights.org.