Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Eagles Nest hearing highlights cultural divide

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 10/12/16

EAGLES NEST TWP—A culture clash had its moment last Thursday night at the town hall here, and in the end, local tradition largely won out. After two hours of public comment and debate, the Eagles …

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Eagles Nest hearing highlights cultural divide

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EAGLES NEST TWP—A culture clash had its moment last Thursday night at the town hall here, and in the end, local tradition largely won out. After two hours of public comment and debate, the Eagles Nest Town Board unanimously rejected taking action to further explore the establishment of safety zones in the rural township, where hunting would be prohibited.

The issue has come up with increasing frequency in recent years, as some local residents have expressed fear over the use of firearms by hunters in residential clusters within the township. They say the increasing number of residents and visitors in the township increases the risk of a hunting accident.

Their concern gained more attention last month, when about ten township residents held signs along Hwy. 169, to protest the danger posed by hunters, particularly during busy periods like Labor Day weekend.

The town board asked Larry McCray, one of the strongest proponents of safety zones in the township, to research the options and bring them to a special meeting for the board’s consideration. McCray did so, outlining several options for the township to consider, including:

‰ Passage of an ordinance.

‰ Passage of a non-binding resolution.

‰ Identifying safety zones and ask the DNR to enforce them.

‰ Establishing parks or recreation areas in the township that could be closed to hunting.

‰ Passage of an ordinance that would designate some portions of the township closed to hunting, or the discharge of firearms.

“Or we could ignore it and hope it goes away,” said McCray.

For many of the approximately 40 people who showed up, doing nothing was clearly the preferable response. Several noted that the township had not had any hunting accidents in the recent past and argued that hunters are typically responsible in their use of firearms.

Bud VanDeusen noted that the small number of hunting accidents that typically occur in the state almost always involve hunters themselves or their fellow hunters. “Injury to non-participants is extremely rare,” he said. “Most hunters are well-trained and careful. A lot of these issues are based on a perceived fear.”

Others raised concerns about how the township would enforce its safety zones without its own police. McCray suggested that the township could contract with law enforcement, such as the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office or the Breitung Police Department. Supervisor Larry Anderson said he had inquired about the cost of that service from Breitung and was told it would likely run $18,000-$25,000 a year.

Breitung Township does have an ordinance, passed in 2014, which generally prohibits the discharge of firearms and arrows “within the platted residential area” of the township, otherwise known as Soudan.

Some saw an ulterior motive behind the support for safety zones. “Is this whole safety zone issue just to protect Lynn Rogers’ bears?” asked one resident, but he was cut off by Board Chair Richard Floyd, who said he wasn’t going to let the discussion delve into what has been the longest-standing controversy in the township. “I don’t know about the motives of people here,” he said. “We’re focused on firearm safety.”

It was a point that Floyd had to make repeatedly as others in the room wanted to discuss bears and bear hunting. “Whenever we hunt, we are bothered by the Lily-padders,” said resident P.J. McDonald. “Hunting here is a tradition, a way of life, and a rite of passage,” he added. He later became testy when Floyd attempted to get the discussion back to firearm safety.

But Barb Soderberg said the issue of bears and firearm safety are linked. “Much of the concern here is over bear hunting. We have more bears here, because they are fed. It is absolutely interconnected,” she said. While not disagreeing, both VanDeusen and Floyd expressed opposition to hunters targeting the large number of fed bears within the township. “I don’t like the idea that people hunt so close to residences,” said Floyd. “They should hunt farther back in the woods.” Van Deusen concurred. “Real hunters hunt wild game, not animals used to people,” he said.

Walsh Road resident John Flaten said he was more concerned about the impact of the situation on quality of life in the township. “This time of year, I’m ducking five times a day when I go outside,” he said. He asked for more and larger safety zones than suggested by McCray.

McCray said he was open to that, and noted that other residents shared Flaten’s concern about the amount of shooting taking place in developed areas within the township.

While McCray and other supporters are seeking a significant change in the township, he said the change is overdue. “Times have changed,” he said. “Today we don’t know each other like we may have in the past. We can’t just shoot anywhere we want because a new house went up down the road or the new bike path has been completed. And there are more people coming in than before.”

While township officials seemed receptive to the concerns about firearms use, the town board wasn’t ready to establish safety zones at this point. “I’m inclined not to do anything,” said Floyd, who made a motion to take no action. Supervisor Anderson said he’d be amenable to more discussion, but was doubtful that opinions would change.

Supervisor Skip Carlson took a harder line. “We live up here for one reason,” he said. “The vast majority of us hunt, we fish, we log, we mine, we snowmobile. We should leave things as they are. I feel for the people who move up here and get upset by the shooting, but it’s really a perception. And I think there’s an underlying issue and we all know what it is.”

Supervisor DeAnn Schatz suggested taking up one of the suggestions from the audience, which was to post signage in more populated parts of the township that would alert the public to the dates of the hunting seasons, and urge them to take appropriate safety measures.

The rest of the board agreed to Schatz’s amendment to Floyd’s motion and it passed unanimously, apparently settling the issue, at least for now.

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