MANATEE COUNTY – County commissioners heard the first volley of complaints from residents about duck hunting near county preserves bordering neighborhoods at a land use meeting on Jan. 10.
“Residents have endured shotgun blasts beginning as early as 6 a.m. and going on all day,” said Mark Lorenze, who answers panicked phone calls from neighbors as chair of the security committee at Perico Bay Club.
People using the walking trails at Perico Preserve also are alarmed by the unexpected gunshots of duck hunters, he said.
“The preserves were set up to attract and protect wildlife, including the waterfowl these hunters seek to kill,” he said, adding that studies show that loud noises scare birds off their nests, leaving the eggs unprotected.
“It doesn’t make sense to allow hunters to kill birds at the edges of these preserves meant to protect them,” he said. “Birds can’t see boundary lines.”
The Anna Maria Island Sun exposed the hunting activity on Dec. 1, 2018 at Perico Preserve, a bird sanctuary just across Perico Bayou from Robinson Preserve.
The hunting activity quickly moved to nearby Neal Preserve, across Manatee Avenue and to the west of Perico, reported on Dec. 14, 2018.
Hunting is not allowed in the preserves, except for Duette Preserve in east Manatee County. However, duck hunters can legally shoot birds on the wing while standing or boating in state waters bordering preserves if they are properly licensed, trained and armed with the right weapon and ammunition in season, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Timothy Hinds.
Residents of Wild Oak Bay were astonished to find out hunting is legal near their homes, said Stuart Smith, a resident of the community on Sarasota Bay near Bayshore Gardens.
On Dec. 26 and 27, dozens of shots were fired by duck hunters in the neighborhood, he said.
“Clearly we have some loopholes to close,” said Smith, who plans to discuss the issue next week with Florida Rep. Will Robinson, for whose family Robinson Preserve is named.
Land development codes have tools to prohibit neighborhoods from incompatible uses, Smith said, suggesting the commission pass an ordinance prohibiting hunting in urban residential neighborhoods, using the county’s existing urban development zone boundary line to allow hunting to the east of the line, in less populated areas.
“This is the right thing to do,” Smith said. “It’s common sense. It’s time. All it takes is the will to do it.”
“I’m very disheartened today to hear that ducks are being shot” near county preserves, Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia said.
“People could get hurt. Bird rookeries are in danger,” she said, suggesting the commission address the issue at a future meeting with input from the county attorney’s office.
Commissioner Betsy Benac said she has hunted ducks in Michigan, but does not “recall ever seeing a house while hunting.”
Any regulations considered should address where hunters can or cannot hunt, not regulate guns, she said.
The incompatibility of guns, preserves and densely populated neighborhoods worries Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s Parks and Natural Resources director, who has asked the county attorney’s office to study the commission’s options.
“We are researching it and there will be some information forthcoming hopefully in the near future,” Commissioner Stephen Jonsson said.
The duck hunting season lasts until Sunday, Jan. 27, according to the FWC.