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Hunting site draws opposition

January 03, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Some residents and animal groups think an invitation-only hunting site near Boonsboro at which fowl are released and then shot is cruel and should not be allowed to operate.

They want the Washington County Planning Commission to reject a site plan for the regulated shooting area, known as Whistling Hill, on 137 acres on Mapleville Road near U.S. 40.

But not all are opposed to the shooting farm.

Steve Palmer, president of the Washington County Federation of Sportsman's Clubs, said the organization backs Whistling Hill.

"The federation supports any type of legitimate hunting opportunities," Palmer said Friday by phone.

The hunting area, owned by Joseph Michael, has been operating since 1999. The planning commission will discuss Whistling Hill's site plan Monday at 7 p.m.

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"This is nothing more than a 'canned hunt,'" Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president for The Humane Society of the United States, wrote to interim Planning Director Steve Goodrich. "It cannot even be termed a hunt, it's rigged; the birds are farm-raised and then released right in front of the hunters."

Andi Bernat, program coordinator for The Fund for Animals, said Friday the organization received four or five phone calls from local residents opposed to Whistling Hill.

She said the residents voiced concerns about noise, safety and the site's effect on property values.

"Our primary concern is the animal aspect of it," Bernat said.

She said a representative of The Fund for Animals probably will attend Monday's meeting.

Bernat wrote in a Dec. 9 letter to the planning commission that regulated hunting areas such as Whistling Hill "are a serious threat to human safety and conduct activities that are cruel to animals. ... Countless birds are injured when shot but not killed immediately. Their bodies are mutilated and they are left to suffer and die a slow, agonizing death."

Michael and spokesman Fred Frederick both were out of the office and could not be reached for comment Friday.

Michael has told The Herald-Mail that he is seeking site plan approval as a precautionary measure and that such an approval is not required.

He's had a state license to operate since March of 1999, he has said.

A 47-unit development, called Meadows Green, is being built next to Whistling Hill, and Michael submitted the site plan to go on record in the county as being there first, Frederick has said.

The homes will sit on 11/2 to 2-acre lots and cost $500,000 to $600,000.

Former Director of Permits and Inspections Paul Prodonovich ruled that Michael was required to submit a site plan and then obtain a zoning permit to operate.

Clear Spring resident Michael Main wrote in a letter to the planning commission that he didn't consider the activity at Whistling Hill to be hunting.

While he said Friday by phone that the site probably wouldn't pose safety issues if shooting takes place in appropriate areas, a noise problem likely would arise.

"I do not feel that the residents should be subjected to endless hours of having to listen to gunfire in their backyards while others are having their fun shooting birds that are released right in front of them," Main wrote in his letter.

A Hagerstown woman also sent a letter to the planning commission opposing Whistling Hill, but she asked that her name not be used in the newspaper.

Bernat wrote that The Fund for Animals receives many calls from property owners throughout the nation who are concerned that their homes will lose value because of nearby regulated shooting areas.

"Families have concerns about residing in a community where the possibility of stray bullets is present," she wrote. "Several people have reported bird carcasses in their lawn and on their roofs as a result of a nearby canned hunt."

Pacelle urged regulated shooting areas be banned.

"Canned hunting belongs in the same category as other forms of animal abuse, like cockfighting and bullfighting," he wrote. "It's hard on animals and easy on people - and it should be against the law."

Palmer, however, said Michael should be allowed to conduct the hunts.

"He's doing something that has a long tradition in American history, and I see nothing wrong with it," Palmer said.

Palmer said Michael has the right to use his property as a regulated shooting area and that with the size of the land, he didn't think safety would be a problem.

"It's kind of frustrating," Palmer said. "Washington County wants to control sprawl, yet they're giving these half a million (dollar) estates more weight than (approximately) 140 acres of open space," Palmer said.

He also discredited the positions of the animal rights groups.

"They do nothing to support and preserve wildlife," Palmer said. "They're political organizations, and that's all they are."

Palmer said he wants the planning commission to approve Michael's site plan.

"I hope he prevails," he said.

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