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Thurston County weighs hunting ban in inlets

Homeowners and duck hunters clashed Thursday during a meeting about whether Thurston County commissioners should restrict or ban hunting around two populated inlets.

Residents told commissioners that hunters of ducks floating on Eld and Henderson inlets have fired their shotguns too close to them and their property. They cite noise as another reason Thurston County should enact a no-shooting zone around the inlets.

Stephen Albrecht, who lives along Henderson Inlet, said the inlet “has become populated to the point where the discharge of firearms is an unacceptable compromise for the residents who live there.”

Another resident said he was afraid to take his grandchildren to the beach on his property because of the hunting.

Duck hunters said they have a right to hunt on public waters and suggested that residents are overstating the danger.

Kurt Snyder, a Grand Mound resident who has hunted ducks in both inlets, said he understands residents’ concerns but noted he typically hunts twice a week during a season that lasts 107 days.

“That isn’t their backyard,” he said. “That’s everybody’s property. We have the right to recreate there as long as we’re safe.”

County commissioners held a meeting last year after Eld Inlet homeowners requested a no-shooting zone. They scheduled the follow-up meeting after Henderson Inlet residents expressed the same concerns.

Thurston County has what Commissioner Karen Valenzuela described as a “confusing mish-mash” of no-shooting and controlled-shooting zones. Both inlets have areas where shooting is allowed, banned or restricted to activities such as self-defense and target practice. These restrictions cover areas on both inlets but appear to be rarely enforced.

Law enforcement officers at the meeting said they have received reports of noise and shot pellets hitting homes, but they were unaware of the shooting causing property damage or injuries.

The officers said enforcement will be difficult if commissioners ban or restrict hunting in the inlets. Sgt. Duane Makoviney, an enforcement officer for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the number of game wardens in Thurston County has dropped from six to two.

“The likelihood that we could respond in what I’d describe as a timely manner is slight,” he said.

Valenzuela said the county’s ability to enforce any regulations will not drive the decision on whether to enact them. If commissioners request changes to the regulations, a public hearing will tentatively be scheduled for September, with adoption by Oct. 1, before the season begins.