Whatcom County Council approves 1,000-foot no-shooting zone buffer in Drayton Harbor

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In a narrow 4-3 vote, Whatcom County Council voted October 12 to create a no-shooting zone in Drayton Harbor within 1,000 feet of the shoreline. The vote concludes a two-year battle between the city of Blaine, waterfowl hunters and tribal representatives to find an agreement in the dispute, and was decided just days before hunting opens in Drayton Harbor on October 16.

Councilmembers Ben Elenbaas, Kathy Kershner, Rud Browne and Tyler Byrd voted in support; while Carol Frazey, Barry Buchanan and Todd Donovan were in opposition.

County council voted on the no-shooting zone during their October 12 meeting, following a public hearing where three speakers gave their comments on the issue. The vote was continually delayed as council tried to bring all parties together for compromise.

Council’s vote will amend Whatcom County Code 9.32 to create a no-shooting zone in Drayton Harbor that will either be 1,000 feet from the high-tide mark of the shoreline or Blaine city limits. The previous buffer was 300 feet. 

Council was originally considering a total ban on shooting in Drayton Harbor, but as a compromise, introduced a 1,000-foot buffer in June to align with Lummi Nation rules that don’t allow tribal members to use firearms within 1,000 feet of an occupied house, according to the revised ordinance introduced June 15. However, Travis Brockie, vice chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC), wrote a letter to county council in July that stated the 1,000-foot buffer was not cited by any Lummi law.

In 2019, the city of Blaine asked county council to consider approving a no-shooting zone in all of Drayton Harbor after residents voiced concerns over safety and noise from the shooting near their homes and recreational areas. The proposed ordinance provoked a debate in council, but was sidelined when the pandemic started. 

In March, Blaine city manager Michael Jones asked that county council revisit addressing the hunting concerns. The issue once again created division from all sides – the city, which wanted to represent residents afraid for their safety in an area slated for more housing growth; hunters and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), who said there was no credible threat; and Lummi Nation and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community representatives, who were granted hunting rights under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott but feared discrimination if others weren’t allowed to hunt. 

During a May public hearing, WDFW officer Ryan Valentine said he had never received any public safety complaints concerning hunting in Drayton Harbor during the 18 years he’d worked for WDFW in the county. Valentine also previously said hunting does not take place close to shore and shotguns have a shot range.

Tino Villaluz, a representative of Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, was the first of the three speakers to address council during October 12 public comment.

“I urge council to vote this down and put it to bed once and for all,” Villaluz said during the public hearing. “The tribal exemption is not justified. We come to the table with the WDFW both frontloading public safety as the most important element as anything and everything we do. With the WDFW, the tribes collectively are co-managers. We can’t have one without another and I think you need to rethink what you’re doing and not try to insert a wedge of division, both amongst our respective state and tribal constituents, but also the representation of the public safety threat is just not there.”

Frank Bob, a representative of Lummi Nation, spoke on behalf of the LIBC. Bob said the tribal council told the city of Blaine they opposed the no-shooting zone during a meeting. The third speaker was a Whatcom County resident who said he didn’t believe the shooting created a threat to public safety. 

During the meeting, Frazey said she would vote against amending the ordinance because the 1,000 feet didn’t make a difference to the no-shooting zone. 

“I did support the original when the city of Blaine asked us to make Drayton Harbor a no-shooting zone,” she said. “There’s a tiny piece of the harbor that won’t be a no-shooting zone that wasn’t before but everything else already was.”

Donovan said he was in opposition because the LIBC said the 1,000-foot buffer didn’t come from them and he believed the tribes were giving clear messages that they weren’t comfortable with the proposed no-shooting zone.

Elenbaas and Jones couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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