1,000-foot buffer proposed in no shooting zone debate

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A compromise has been proposed in the debate over a proposed no shooting zone that the city of Blaine is seeking to establish in Drayton Harbor. The compromise envisions a 1,000-foot buffer around Drayton Harbor’s shoreline in which no shooting would be allowed; hunting would be allowed to continue in the middle area of the harbor under county jurisdiction.

The city of Blaine has requested that Whatcom County Council amend section 9.32 of the Whatcom County Code, which enables the creation of no shooting zones in the county’s jurisdiction. The city of Blaine is seeking the creation of a no shooting zone in all of Drayton Harbor, much of which is outside of Blaine city limits, in order to address some residents’ concerns about gunfire near homes and property. The gunfire occurs during the waterfowl hunting season when hunters on boats shoot at sea ducks using birdshot.

Blaine officials have argued that hunters sometimes wander inadvertently from the county’s portion of the harbor, where hunting is allowed, into the city’s portion of the harbor, where hunting is banned. They have also said that hunting presents a safety risk, with the area around Drayton Harbor becoming increasingly urbanized and populated.

The compromise, proposed by Whatcom County councilmember Rud Browne, attempts to address these concerns. “If [the no shooting zone] is 1,000 feet around the entire perimeter, it’s easy to know when you’re in the boundary and when you’re outside the boundary,” Browne said at Whatcom County Council’s December 3 meeting. “The maximum range of a shotgun is quite significantly less than 1,000 feet,” he added.

At the December 3 meeting, Browne made a motion to hold the matter until the council’s next meeting, scheduled to occur on January 14, in order to obtain feedback on the compromise from stakeholders including the Lummi tribe and Blaine police chief Donnell Tanksley. The motion passed 5-2 with Todd Donovan and Carol Frazey opposed.

“I am trying to thread the needle to basically make everybody as happy as we could,” said Browne. “I’d like to get feedback from the parties concerned. It’s a way of meeting both objectives. It provides a safety buffer for people and still allows for hunting.”

Browne said that his solution would also align with tribal hunting practices, which have been a sticking point; members of the Lummi Nation and the Swinomish tribal community have opposed the proposed shooting ban, saying that their tribal hunting rights and ceremonial practices would be affected.

“My understanding is that the Lummi tribal hunting rules are that they will not shoot within 1,000 feet … of a dwelling,” said Browne. “So it seemed to align everything. If I understood what I was told correctly, it would mean that the tribal rules would align with the county rules so there wouldn’t be any targeting of tribal members as having different rights and hunting in different areas to non-tribal members.”

If adopted by Whatcom County Council, the compromise would require further action from the city of Blaine. This is because the city’s jurisdiction extends more than 1,000 feet from the shoreline in multiple locations. “The proposal that Mr. Browne proposed would actually require a change in the city’s laws regarding shooting, or some other mechanism to change the city’s jurisdiction over parts of the harbor,” said Blaine city manager Michael Jones.

Jones said that he is required to take his direction on policy from Blaine city council. “Due to the fact that [city council has] already articulated their position on this, which is to seek a no shooting zone for the entire harbor, that is the position that we are pursuing,” he said. “Any change in that would require council to give me different direction.”

At Blaine city council’s December 9 meeting, one Semiahmoo resident urged Blaine councilmembers to reject the proposal. “We wouldn’t want to have hunting in the middle of a commercial area,” he said, citing the state’s recent approval of new acreage in Drayton Harbor for commercial shellfish harvesting.

Browne’s proposal received a positive reception from at least one fellow councilmember. “I think it’s a great idea if you follow through with it,” said Barbara Brenner, whose term expires in January. “That’ll tell me for sure if the people in opposition are really concerned about safety or they don’t like the noise. The guns they use for that kind of shooting, they hardly go anywhere. I’m amazed they can get the birds because I couldn’t do it.”

Hunters appeared to support Browne’s proposal. “I think it is a great idea,” said Matt Berry, Whatcom County treasurer of the Washington Waterfowl Association, a hunting and conservation group.

Berry said the debate has brought native and non-native hunters together. He said that in the past, tension has sometimes existed between the two groups, which are subject to different rules. “One of the most interesting things to come out of the last council meeting was the tribes showing up to support the non-native hunters,” he said. “Protecting this unique sea duck hunting area is becoming a great opportunity to bring native and non-native hunters and anglers together.”

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