April 18, 2014 - 22:46
Opposition voiced to coon hunt change
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The county commission has voiced opposition to a proposed change in the coon hunting season, which was just approved in the Bear Reserve for this year.

The county commission has voiced opposition to a proposed change in the coon hunting season, which was just approved in the Bear Reserve for this year. For about five years previously, there was a dog training season only. For many years before that, coon hunting was allowed. The Forest Service asked that the hunts in the Tellico and Ocoee Bear reserves be dropped.

John Pippenger said the TWRA would be meeting Thursday in Nashville to set hunting seasons for the coming year. Daren Waters said TWRA officials are not in favor of the change but won’t have a choice if the Forest Service insists. Pippenger said he hoped they could convince Forest officials look at it for another year. Greg Brooks said they need support from Congressman Chuck Fleischmann. Pippenger and Daniel Deal both said they have tried to contact him.

According to a letter to TWRA from Acting Cherokee National Forest Supervisor Jeffrey Vail, the new raccoon season that opened Jan 1 to the end of February 2011 caused conflicts in those areas of the Wildlife Management Area.  In years past, he said, these areas have been closed to raccoon hunting, or when open, only for a lesser amount of time. “Numerous instances were observed of hunters utilizing more than 15 dogs at one time in the bear reserves while hunting raccoons.  Officers also observed raccoon hunters that had traveled more than two hours to hunt in the Ocoee Bear Reserve, many of which were observed driving through the Forest with their dogs “rigged” which is common practice for hunting other types of game.”

Vail said the dogs these hunters possessed are essentially the same breeds as those utilized for bear and hog hunting and are not typically used in these numbers to hunt raccoons.  Though bears are usually in dens during this time of year, he added, often those dens are ground dens easily accessible by dogs.  One of the purposes of the bear reserves is to give the breeding populations of bears a safe haven from human pressures, he said, adding the prolonged raccoon hunting season and the subsequent numbers of dogs that are released into the area severely impact these benefits. There were also multiple cases of dogs caught in leg-hold traps set by legal trappers, he said, which is a conflict of overlapping seasons/uses.

Additionally, Vail said, there were increased numbers of questions and complaints from the non-hunting public who observed dogs wandering throughout the Forest adjacent to roadways and trails waiting to be retrieved by their handler.  

Daren Waters said it seemed there was concern that hunters were using the coon hunt to hunt bears, but he pointed out that nobody was arrested for doing that. He also noted that only .22 rifles are allowed during the coon hunt, adding he didn’t think a hunter would go after a bear with a .22. Waters also wondered why it was a problem that some hunters had traveled more than two hours, noting that other visitors come from farther and that hunters, too, help the local economy. He said there were no restrictions on the number of dogs that could be used.

Brooks pointed out that hunters are the only users who must purchase a permit. The other users – hikers, bikers, and others – use the Forest for free.

Vail said the Forest Service strongly supports the continued use of hunting as a tool to effectively manage wildlife populations in Tennessee. “Hunting is well recognized as an important use of national forest land. We are apprehensive that increased mortality of young wildlife and user conflicts could result in negative impacts to this type of use,” he said.

Vail told TWRA, “We will continue to work closely together to ensure that the Cherokee WMA is managed in ways that protect and enhance a variety of wildlife and their habitat, while providing for an array of recreational opportunities long into the future.”

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