DEM Hears Support for Changing Paddling Regulations

By DAVID SMITH/ecoRI News contributor

WARWICK, R.I. — Adding more days to the deer hunting season on Prudence Island was opposed and eliminating regulations governing groups of paddlers on Rhode Island waterways supported by those who attended a May 26 state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) meeting.

The workshop/public hearing on the hunting regulations was for the 2015-16 season, while the proposed fishing regulations are for the 2016-17 season. DEM officials will consider the testimony taken at the hearing before finalizing the regulations.

DEM’s assistant director for natural resources, Catherine Sparks, said it’s hoped that the regulations will be finalized by the end of July, and they would then go into effect 20 days later.

The fishing hearing began with several people asking DEM to remove two sections of the regulations that govern non-fishermen. Charlestown resident Jim Cole, a member of the Rhode Island Rivers Council, Blueways Alliance and the Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Association, was joined by DEM employee Chuck Horbert, also a member of those organizations, asking that sections 1.16.1 and 1.1.6.2 be removed from the regulations. Horbert works in the agency’s Water Resources Division. A section that deals with fishing tournaments should be left untouched, they said.

The two sections in question, which are in the 2015-16 fishing regulations, state that permits are required for state fishing and boat access areas for 10 or more boats, paddle boards, regardless of propulsion, and permits should be applied for within two weeks prior to the activity. The other section stipulates that the same permits are required for “organizational education activities” where there are 10 or more boats.

Horbert said the first two rules don’t belong in the fishing regulations and should be handled by parks and recreation.

“Why are rules for boating in fishing regulations?” he asked. “These groups are not engaged in fishing. It seems duplicative and an unusual way to handle the problem.”

Sparks responded and that there is a need for redundancy, especially in the case of individuals who only look at one document.

Chris Fox, director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA), read a letter into testimony in support of removing the rules from the fishing regulations. He said his organization is adamantly opposed to regulations regarding non-fishermen.

“We strongly urge the Department of Environmental Management to eliminate these two proposed regulations until such time that the department possesses the capacity to administer a permit system that can fairly and evenly review and approve permits for all user groups of a designated size in a timely and efficient manner,” Fox said. “With the evolution of technology and social media, WPWA has identified a trend away from events planned well in advance, to those that occur on a spur-of-the-moment basis.”

He said the two regulations negatively impact WPWA and other private outfitters that provide paddle gear and services. They often receive customer requests on short notice, based on a forecast of good weather.

“If a permit cannot be obtained within days or hours in advance, services cannot be (legally) rendered, thus resulting in a loss of revenue,” Fox said. “WPWA and other entities rely on the revenue generated from fee-for-service programs, as well as from the provision of equipment and supplies, to support the operating expenses, including insurance, of our revenue-generating enterprises.”

Hunting regulations
Several people at the recent hearing spoke against the addition of a special deer hunting season on Prudence Island for youth archery hunters Sept. 5 and 6, instead of Oct. 11 and 12. They said the earlier season conflicts with people using the island for recreational purposes during the warm, less-crowded days at the end of summer. The island is a part of Portsmouth and is in Narragansett Bay.

A few people suggested that the hunting should begin Nov. 1 so the interaction between hunters and non-hunters is reduced.

Glenn Young, a member of the Portsmouth Police Department, attended the hearing to testify that his department was opposed to starting the bow season for deer in September and wanted a Nov. 1 start date.

A resident of Prudence Island said despite their being no complaints, he believed that non-hunters don’t know whom to complain to and that most don’t read the hunting regulations enough to know that the season is even open.

Richard Phillips, a member of the Prudence Island Bowhunters Inc., said he has been hunting on the island for 50 years. “I want to keep it in November,” he said. “It’s best for everybody.”

Prior to the hearing on hunting regulations, Brian Teft, DEM’s principal wildlife biologist, gave a presentation about hunting in the state that focused mainly on deer. He said 2,182 deer were killed last year by hunters, about 13 percent less than the previous year. Teft said that could be attributed to a greater acorn harvest which provided the deer more food and enabled them to roam less.

He said there were 9,354 hunters and 19,873 deer tags were sold last year. Teft added that urban deer management is a growing concern because of the high numbers of deer. Many land trusts and around the state have now opted to allow hunting, he said.

A pilot program is being tried this upcoming hunting season, Teft said, called “Hunters Feeding Hungry People.” Hunters will be able to donate only deer and that the meat will go to the Providence-based Center for Southeast Asians. He said the deer must be legally taken, be field dressed and donated within 24 hours. DEM is currently looking for a central location to operate a walk-in refrigerator where hunters can drop off donations.

“We believe it could work,” Teft said. “The hunter has no liabilities and this is just a trial run.”

A similar program was tried years ago but it floundered and was eventually dropped, because some food kitchens were either unable to process the meat or didn’t want the liability of serving wild game or uninspected meat.