Hunters in marine waters off Thurston County shores may soon have to think twice before pulling the trigger.
After holding several community meetings over the past two years and hearing safety concerns from residents who live near saltwater, the county has rolled out a proposed ordinance that would restrict the discharge of firearms within 300 yards of marine shorelines and entire lower sections of Henderson and Eld inlets.
While the county has about 40 no-shooting or controlled-shooting zones, currently there are no restrictions on marine waters, except for a portion of lower Eld Inlet, said county senior planner Robert Smith.
The county is holding a meeting Thursday to discuss the proposed regulations and expects to hear from both sides. A public hearing will likely take place this spring.
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It’s an issue Thurston County commission chair Karen Valenzuela has been working on since joining the board and says she is very willing to hear suggestions and concerns from all sides.
“This is the starting point for the conversation,” she said.
Some residents along Henderson Inlet are applauding the proposed regulations.
Steve Albrecht, who has seen duck hunters fire shotguns within 20 yards of his Swayne Drive property, said the new restrictions put him more at ease than previous proposals and believes the ordinance is not inherently anti-hunting.
“We have to balance safety needs and traditional uses of the waters,” he said.
His neighbor, Tom Terry, is a hunter and says the area has become too residential for hunting and that people have come onto his property to hunt. Under the proposed regulations, the water off Terry’s property would be off limits for hunters.
“I would never set up (to hunt) in a neighborhood or residential area,” he said of his own hunting preferences. “I get away – you get out where it’s really conducive for shooting.”
The shooting buffer along shorelines coincides with the firing range of shotguns, according to the ordinance.
However, not everyone in the neighborhood sees the danger.
Gerald Pumphrey, who lives off Swayne Drive Northeast, wrote to the county saying he doesn’t think hunting waterfowl in the area is inherently unsafe.
“While I respect the views of my friends and neighbors and their right to advance their position, I have not personally observed hunting behavior that caused me to feel threatened or unduly disturbed,” he wrote.
Brian Kraemer, who lives in Kent, has hunted in county inlets and calls the proposal ludicrous, noting that the county houses Cabela’s, a major retail location for hunters, while simultaneously restricting hunting activity.
“The open waters of the Puget Sound is public property,” he said. “Just because you have a view of it doesn’t mean you can dictate what goes on in it.”
He also called the safety concerns “silly,” saying that residents just don’t like the noise and are anti-hunting.
State law allows counties to restrict shooting where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals, or property will be jeopardized, according to language in the proposed ordinance.
Despite the safety concerns voiced by some living near the water, there have been no reports of injury as a result of hunters firing weapons in the inlets, Smith said.
One compromise Kraemer proposes is restricting firing toward land within the area but allowing gunfire in open water.
Others question why all hunters are being punished for the actions of a few.
In an e-mail to the county, Ken Boyer of Redmond said his family has been safely hunting for decades and believes that the actions of a few unsafe hunters should not cut off all hunting along Thurston County shores. Boyer recently joined a local hunting club and has hunted in the Nisqually area.
The ordinance also adds new no shooting zones within the urban growth area and residential areas with higher densities, Smith said.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/outsideoly