One of the treats of living in Orange County is being able to escape quickly into rural areas, there to wander for hours in solitude, the only sounds coming from birds and other wildlife.
Coal Canyon is one of those tucked-away areas of respite. Considering its nearness to the Riverside Freeway, it is surprising how peaceful and relaxing an atmosphere it offers.
Now the state Fish and Game Commission has proposed designating 952 acres of Coal Canyon an ecological reserve and allowing hunting with bows and arrows and shotguns. That would be a mistake.
State officials point out that hunting in Coal Canyon is not barred now. However, few hunters go there because the canyon is relatively unknown and difficult to enter.
Opponents of the state plan said designating the area an ecological reserve open for hunting would publicize its availability and make it more popular for the shotgun brigade. That, without a doubt, would increase the potential for accidents and would drive many nature study groups and hikers out of the canyon altogether.
One state official said hunting is a "historical activity" in the area and noted that the proposed reserve is next to the Cleveland National Forest, where hunting is allowed. That may be so, but raising oranges in Orange County was a historical activity too, as was the blasting of tens of thousands of birds from the sky by hunting parties based at the Bolsa Chica wetlands. Times change and the uses of land change with them.
Actually, the nearness of the Cleveland National Forest is an argument against hunting in Coal Canyon. Let hunters go a few miles farther, into the forest, a much larger expanse than the canyon and one that offers more room for coexistence between hunters and hikers.
The state's 1991 purchase of the land was a good use of bond money authorized under Proposition 70, the California Wildlife, Coastal and Park Land Conservation Act. Rather than tell hunters to "come and get it," the state would be better off banning hunting in the canyon.