Pittsburgh official: No city hunting

Pittsburgh – The area that was to become Pittsburgh had deer in
the 1700s. The area encompassed by the city today still does.

For the sake of the people living with them, though, they should
be dealt with differently, at least in the eyes of one public
official.

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields said that despite
an agreed-upon overabundance of deer – and raccoons, groundhogs and
other wildlife – it’s simply not safe to allow hunting within the
city limits. That’s why he’s asked the Pennsylvania Game Commission
to declare the entire city a safety zone and therefore off-limits
to hunting.

“Basically, it’s a question of common sense in my mind,” Shields
said. “This isn’t like you’re going down to the river to fish.
You’re dealing with a firearm.

“Certainly, with our population density, hunting in the city
isn’t the safest thing in the world to be doing.”

Game Commission officials say they don’t have the authority to
grant Shields’ request, though.

State lawmakers – not the Game Commission – establish safety
zone limits by statute, said commission press secretary Jerry
Feaser. Right now, sportsmen are prohibited from hunting with a
firearm within 150 yards of any occupied building, barn, or
playground of any school, nursery school or day-care center and
from hunting within 50 yards of those structures with a bow unless
they have the landowner’s permission.

The commission does not have the ability to supersede those
rules and simply close the city to hunting, added Joe Neville,
director of the Game Commission’s information and education
bureau.

The city can’t take that step either. The city can post its own
property against hunting, just as any other landowner can, but case
law says it can’t prohibit hunting on private property with the
city.

Neville’s not sure that would be such a good idea anyway.

“It would be a shame to stop legal hunting because the deer
population would go through the roof,” Neville said. “They should
be encouraging archers to be there.”

Shields isn’t so sure. He realizes that there’s hunting – some
legal, some illegal – going on the city now, just as there always
has been.

Each year, he said, an untold number of people trespass on
city-owned property like Frick Park, Riverview Park and the
greenways around Hazelwood to hunt deer and other game. Just this
year, Shields said a hunter called his office to get permission to
hunt on city land “in the wilds of New Homestead within the 31st
Ward.”

He said he’s also “well aware that we have an overpopulation of
deer within the City of Pittsburgh,” he said. But it’s the Game
Commission’s job to figure out how to address that in a safe
manner, he said. So far, though, it hasn’t, he said.

“Those are the Game Commission’s deer, not mine. Along with the
raccoons, groundhogs and everything else. It’s their responsibility
to come up with a game-management plan for the City of Pittsburgh,”
Shields said.

That’s not happening, though, so Shields has been researching
other alternatives.

He asked Scott Kunka, director of finance for the city and the
man whose department is in charge of city real estate, to consider
posting all city-owned property against hunting. Kunka did not
return a phone call seeking comment.

Shields, though, said he was told that the city does not want to
get involved with the time, expense and “headache” of trying to
post its property and then police it.

Shields also has asked state Rep. Harry Readshaw and state Sen.
Jay Costa, both Allegheny County Democrats, for their help in
eliminating hunting within the city. But while both said they are
willing to listen to the city’s concerns, they also stopped short
of saying they would support a ban.

Costa, perhaps aware that Allegheny County accounts for more
hunting licenses sold than any other county in the state, said any
such move would be sure to be controversial.

“I am not in favor of completely banning hunting within the City
of Pittsburgh,” Costa said. “I’m not sure how much opportunity
there is to hunt within the city limits anyway. But I think you
have to be careful when you go down that path.”

Readshaw sponsored legislation, signed by the governor last
year, that protects property owners from liability if a hunting or
firearms accident occurs on their property. Drafted with private
landowners in mind, it would also extend to the city, he
believes.

If the city is still concerned enough that it wants to ban
hunting, however, he’d want to see a concrete proposal before
saying whether he could support it.

“The first step is the city’s,” Readshaw said.

Shields, though, wants to see something done. “We have some
problems, and they need to be addressed,” he said.

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