Recent reports of duck hunters shooting near Shollenberger Park, a popular wildlife viewing destination, have sparked public concern, as the only kind of hunting for birds permitted in the city-owned park is through binoculars.
Fish and Wildlife wardens received a report of hunters shooting into the park on Jan. 25 and the sheriff's department received a report on Jan. 17 of hunters shooting into the park from across the river.
Both agencies dispatched personnel to investigate, but found no illegal hunters.
In the week of Jan. 21, two accounts appeared on a North Bay birding forum about hunters standing across the Petaluma River from Shollenberger Park, presumably on privately owned land, and shooting into the park. In one account, two young men fired at birds from the southwest edge of the park, then came into the park to retrieve them.
The reports came as duck hunting season was winding to a close — the last day to hunt was Jan. 27.
According to officials and those familiar with the park, a couple such incidents happen each year, perhaps the result of the park being near areas where hunting is permitted.
Duck hunting is allowed in navigable waterways as long as the hunter does not shoot onto land where hunting is prohibited, said Tiffany Stinson, a warden with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. She added that sometimes people believe someone is hunting illegally when they are actually within a permitted area.
Bob Dyer, a docent at Shollenberger Park and member of the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, added that some of the hunting activity in the area of Shollenberger and the Ellis Creek Water Recycling facility can likely be attributed to the fact that the Ellis Creek land was privately owned until the city bought it in 2007.
At that time, seasoned duck hunters would get the permission of the property owners to hunt there, Dyer said.
When the city bought the land, some hunters kept coming back, traveling up the Petaluma River by boat to the Ellis Creek property and prompting the city to post "no duck hunting" signs along the river and near the property. The signs helped, Dyer said, but every so often hunters return.
In the most recent instance, where the shooters were across the river from Shollenberger Park, they were likely on a privately owned piece of land, Dyer said. "That would be legal as long as they had a license, obeyed the bag limits and got the permission of the owner," Dyer said.
It's unlikely the issue will continue this year with duck hunting season at a close — at least until mid-October, when the season starts up again.
(Contact Jamie Hansen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)