DOVER — The question of whether to ban hunting on Willand Pond in Dover and Somersworth continues to be a contentious issue in Concord.
On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee held a public hearing on a proposed law to ban hunting from the pond. State Rep. Peter Bixby, D-District 17, proposed the legislative ban after the N.H. Fish and Game Department decided not to take action on a complete ban last year.
Both Dover and Somersworth have passed resolutions banning hunting on the land surrounding the pond. However, since the water is owned by the people of New Hampshire and not by either city, hunters are able to shoot from boats, or while standing on the pond when it is frozen.
Fish and Game last year proposed a compromise that would restrict hunting to an area of the pond farther away from residents and recreational facilities.
The proposed rule change says: “Willand Pond in Dover/Somersworth shall be closed to hunting from south of the quarter-mile marker located in the Willand Pond Recreation Area in Dover … across the pond to the point of land at the parking lot area in the Willand Pond Recreation Area … in Somersworth; to include the waters between the aforementioned points toward the Route 9/108 intersection in Dover, and the Fish and Game boat access site.”
However, some residents of both cities have expressed concern that hunting is a disturbance and a danger to the growing number of people who live near the pond, and to those who use the area for recreational purposes.
At Tuesday’s public hearing, Dover Recreation Director Gary Bannon presented a map showing the potential range of guns fired at different points on the pond where hunting is currently legal. With a maximum range of 350 yards, Bannon says shots fired from those points of the pond could easily hit residential areas and businesses.
“It shows how a shot over the water can still travel into houses, into the street,” Bannon said. “… The 350 yards is at the very edge of the range, but even half of that is significant.”
Bannon acknowledged there have not been any incidents involving hunters hitting anything they should not, but that is not a reason to not take action.
“Nothing yet has happened, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen sometime,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that.”
Opponents of the ban say there is a constitutional right to hunt, and that Willand Pond is a popular location for local duck hunters.
Several public hearings organized by Fish and Game were held on the matter last year, but the department ultimately decided not to impose a full ban. As a result, ban supporters are pursuing a legislative path to ban hunting.
Bixby and state Sen. David Watters, D-District 4, attended the public hearing to support a ban. Watters has said in the past the issue is complex because there is a constitutional right to hunt.
Fish and Game representatives also made presentations at Tuesday’s public hearing to defend their decision to not completely ban hunting on the pond.
Now, the committee will deliberate on what to do with the issue, and supporters and opponents of the ban are left to “wait and see,” Bannon said. It is unclear when the Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee may make a decision on the future of a ban.