ATTLEBORO - Hunters packed city hall Sunday for a special meeting of the city council's public safety committee regarding concerns voiced by property owners about alleged infractions of hunting law.
An estimated 75 hunters jammed into council chambers along with at least three property owners.
The session was restricted to questions about state hunting laws in an effort to establish facts on hunting rules and regulations before there's any consideration of adding to them at the city level.
Some property owners would like to see an ordinance that puts more responsibility on hunters to get written permission from property owners to hunt on private land and then require them to file with police so authorities and land owners know where they are and who they are. The owners have complained since 2012 about trespassing, destruction of posted "no hunting" signs and the shooting of guns near homes.
Public safety chairman Peter Blais said he expects the process of determining what the current rules are and whether to add to them will take some time.
"This is the first of probably many meetings between now and probably August," he said.
"Hopefully we can come up with some legislation that's good for everybody, that protects the landowners and the rights of the hunters," Blais said. "Everyone will have a chance to speak for or against any law that's proposed."
Hunters came to defend their sport, but one councilor said it's not the sport itself that's in question.
Heather Porreca said property owners she's talked to "are not anti-hunting at all, but they want it done properly."
Brenda Haskell, a landowner on Richardson Avenue and Pleasant Street, said her concerns are with hunters who don't obey the rules.
"I don't think any of us have any issues with ethical hunters," she said.
Meanwhile, Blais said any ordinance that's eventually proposed needs to be enforceable.
During the 90-minute meeting that started at noon, there were a number of questions about how property owners can prohibit hunters.
The bottom line seemed to be that if a property owner does not want to allow hunting he or she needs to post the prohibition, and post it where it can be seen.
The posting has to contain the name of the land owner or tenant.
Lt. Scott Amati, of the state's environmental police, said there are no regulations on the number of signs or how widely they're spaced, only that they be placed "conspicuously."
He recommended that they be put 12 to 15 feet high to guard against vandalism.
Amati provided a copy of the law on posting that says - "a person shall not fish, hunt or trap on private land without permission of the owner or tenant thereof, after such owner or tenant has conspicuously posted thereon notices which bear the name of such owner or tenant and which state that fishing, hunting or trapping on such land, as the case may be, is prohibited."
There are also concerns about firearms.
One is noise, but there are no state rules concerning that, Amati said.
There is a law prohibiting hunters from discharging a firearm within 500 feet "of a dwelling in use" without written permission, he said.
Most hunters are keenly aware of hunting rules because to get a license, hunters must go through an extensive education program.
However, some things should be "common sense," Amati said.
For example, if confronted with a sign that says "no trespassing," hunters should conclude that they and everyone else have been barred from the property and that hunting is not allowed.
Hunters also have protections, including one that prohibits interference with a hunt that's legally conducted.
For example, someone can't purposely alert game so it escapes, Amati said.
Furthermore, if a landowner and hunter have a dispute one or both of them should call environmental or local police to settle it.
City rules on hunting are less clear.
While there's an ordinance banning the discharge of a firearm on city property, it doesn't specifically ban hunting.
And, there are apparently few city rules aimed directly at hunting.
Former police officer and avid hunter John Hynes said hunting is specifically banned only at city reservoirs.
The meeting was mostly without confrontation, however former Ward 4 councilor Jonathan Weydt was ordered to leave by Blais after he allegedly strayed from the subject and was deemed out of order.
One of at least three uniformed police officers in attendance, which included Chief Kyle Heagney, asked Weydt to leave and he did.
Before Weydt left the council earlier this year after deciding not to seek reelection, he'd been in a number of scuffles with colleagues and others over different matters, including an incident where he threw paper money and a newspaper at a store clerk and was charged with assault and battery.
The charge was later reduced to assault and he was put on probation.
Public safety committee members Julie Hall and Jay Dilisio were also in attendance as well as non-committee members President Frank Cook and Kate Jackson, who represents the heavily wooded Ward 4 where hunters often flock.