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Possible Bender Park addition would be open to hunting

Stewardship rules could bring first hunting on Milwaukee County land

Jan. 1, 2013

Bow hunting for deer and trapping for coyotes or other mammals would be legal on a 95-acre site that could be added to Milwaukee County's Bender Park, under rules for land purchased with state stewardship fund money.

It would be the first time - at least in modern times - that hunting would be allowed on county property, if supervisors accept the undeveloped parcel that's adjacent to the park in Oak Creek. The county has already authorized the Conservation Fund to apply for a state grant to help buy the land.

The fund plans to turn the land over to the county, if the state money and other funding come through to purchase the property from a development firm.

The proposed 95-acre addition to Bender Park lies south of Fitzsimmons Road and east of a rail corridor on the far southeastern tip of the county.

Any new county parkland purchased with money through the state Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program must be open to hunting and trapping, as well as other recreational uses, under provisions of the Sports Heritage Act approved by the Legislature last year. The measure also opened all state parks and trails to hunting and trapping.

County parks officials are preparing some proposed guidelines for hunting and trapping that likely will be rolled out in early 2013, interim Parks Director Jim Keegan said. The public hearings on the plan will be held before the County Board takes up the issue.

"We're not opening the floodgates" to large numbers of hunters at Bender Park, Kevin Haley, landscape architect for the county parks, told supervisors at a presentation last month. Only bow hunting would be allowed - no firearms - and no more than two hunters per 40 acres would be permitted at any given time, he said.

That would limit the number of hunters on the proposed addition to Bender Park to four at a time.

Haley said regulated hunting would help the county with resource management. County rules would likely spell out when and how hunting could happen in Bender Park, and a county permit in addition to a state hunting license would be required, Keegan said.

A lottery system likely would be used to determine who gets a county hunting permit, he said.

"We've got deer problems down there" that might be eased through a regulated hunting season, he said.

Trapping coyotes or other, smaller mammals might also be regulated there, he said. Only "pet friendly" traps would be allowed, Keegan said.

"You are not going to have some open bear claw traps sitting out in the woods" at Bender Park, he said.

Concerns expected

No opposition to the hunting in the park surfaced last month, but resistance from hikers and birders is anticipated.

"We are opposed to it," said John Lunz, president of Preserve our Parks, a local parks advocacy group. "The whole thing is disgusting to me." But the group favors the preservation of the 95-acre parcel and the state stewardship funding would require opening that land to some hunting.

Lunz said he's concerned that the state and county wouldn't be able to properly police the restriction of no more than two hunters per 40 acres.

The proposed addition to Bender Park would include "high-value wildlife habitat," including several wetlands, according to a report by the county Parks Department.

"There are six documented ephemeral wetlands in addition to eight acres of permanent wetlands on the site and two drainage channels," the report says. The proposed 95-acre addition "will add to the native plant communities and wildlife habitat areas in Bender Park."

County Supervisor Patricia Jursik said she hadn't heard from opponents to the hunting in Bender Park idea, but noted that the park is part of an important migratory bird corridor. The Lake Michigan Flyway is "a link between Canada and the Northwest Territories and Central and South America for many shorebirds, flycatchers, vireos, swallows, thrushes, warblers, sparrows and other birds," the county report says.

Opponents of opening state parks to hunting dominated a hearing before the state Natural Resources Board Dec. 11, with some hunters saying the law could fuel anti-hunting sentiment in the state.

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