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State Panel Delays Ruling on Hunting in Coal Canyon : Ecology: Hunters, environmentalists trade salvos over OKing hunting if the area becomes an ecological reserve.


PALM SPRINGS — After hearing impassioned testimony, the state Fish and Game Commission on Friday postponed a decision on whether to allow hunting in Coal Canyon once it has been declared an ecological reserve.

"Hunters are notorious for the amount of damage they do," Virginia Handley, an animal rights activist representing The Fund for Animals, told the commissioners.

Ronald Regehr, speaking for the California Bowmen Hunters and State Archery Assn. countered: "When I stalk an animal, I don't want to frighten it. The quietness and serenity of an area is paramount; we don't go stomping around."

The meeting at Palm Springs' Riviera Resort provided the latest installment of an argument that began three months ago when the state Department of Fish and Game proposed that the rugged 952-acre area near the Riverside Freeway in the northeast portion of the county be classified as an ecological reserve. There is virtually no opposition to that proposal, but a clause allowing hunting has raised the ire of some environmentalists and the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks Commission, which last week adopted a resolution in opposition.

Hunting is not specifically prohibited in the state-owned canyon now, state officials said, but few hunters ever go there because it is relatively unknown and difficult to enter. Opponents argue that designating the area an ecological reserve open for hunting would bring in a swarm of hunters, attracted by its listing as a hunting area in Fish and Game publications. The only other public land open to hunters in Orange County is the Cleveland National Forest.

After receiving several negative comments in August when the proposal was first made public, Fish and Game officials revised the proposal so that it would ban the use of pistols and most rifles, limiting hunters to bows and shotguns, which have a much shorter range.

"The department's intent," Terry Mansfield, a division chief for wildlife management, told the commissioners Friday, "is to provide hunting in a safe and orderly manner. We want hunting opportunities consistent with protecting our natural resources."

But opponents raised a number of objections, among them that hunters might shoot such rare species as eagles and falcons, scare away would-be hikers or trample rare vegetation and disturb the environment.

"Shooting needlessly exposes (vegetation) to another source of fires," said Connie Spenger, president of Friends of the Tecate Cypress, named for a rare tree found in the canyon.

Countered Regehr: "I don't know how those sensitive plants can tell the difference between a hunter and a tourist. Hunters try to preserve the habitat (too.)"

In the end, the commissioners voted to follow Mansfield's suggestion that the matter be postponed until their next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 4 in Monterey, while staffers work on revising language in a proposal considered too ambiguous.

"It makes it seem too restrictive," Mansfield said of the proposal as written. The intended revision, he said, would clarify the fact that hunters would be able to stalk deer as well as birds, rabbits and other small game as long as they limit themselves to bows and shotguns.

"There's no reason to believe that the low level of hunting involved will in any way disrupt the environment," he said.

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