Montreat looks for ways to deal with 'rogue hunters'

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
The Montreat Board of Commissioners met Oct. 13 to discuss new ordinances regarding bear hunting.

The conversation concerning bear hunting in Montreat continued during the Oct. 13 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Commissioner Mason Blake proposed five new ordinances concerning bears and bear hunting dogs.

The ordinances come after an incident in January where several hunting dogs were seen chasing bears through residential neighborhoods.

The town has a good relationship with the Mt. Mitchell Bear Hunting Club and believes this incident involved hunters who are not members of that club.

The first ordinance is similar to one passed in 1901 that prohibits owners from having dogs “at large.” In other words, dogs need to be restrained at all times. Under this ordinance, those in violation will first receive a verbal warning, then a written warning, then a fine after a third offense. The warnings reset after one year.

“I’m sorry if they get tickets, but that’s what happens when you create dangerous situations,” Blake said. “That’s why we have these rules. I don’t believe we can take a position where we do nothing and have nothing we can do.”

The second ordinance, modeled after the North Carolina Landowners Protection Act, makes it illegal to go onto private property to retrieve hunting dogs without the permission of the property owner or police escort.

The third ordinance prohibits the release of hunting dogs in Montreat town limits, which Blake said will be difficult to catch these “urban hunters.”

The fourth ordinance prohibits feeding bears and comes with a misdemeanor charge.

The fifth and final ordinance is a revision to solid waste disposal and involves residents not putting waste in plastic bags on the street, but instead in trash cans or bear-proof containers.

Commissioner Kent Otto said while he appreciates Blake’s passion on the topic and agrees with him about safety, he is not sure about the fines associated with breaking the ordinances.

Otto said he is worried about unintended consequences for law-abiding bear hunters, but is with Blake on “sinking teeth into rogue players.”

“I feel like it’s reckless,” Otto said. “I feel like it’s cowardly on their part. To me, it says they’re really not bear hunters. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I’m surprised they’re that much of a coward that they’ve got to come into town to kill a bear.”

Otto said he has seen more bears this year than in the past 15 years he’s been living in town. He said he believes the town has a bear problem in addition to a hunting dog problem, but that the hunters are helping with the bear problem.

He said he wants to keep the “neighborly relationship” with Mt. Mitchell Bear Hunting Club and does not want to “poke the bear hunters indirectly,” because the town needs them.

Commissioner Kitty Fouche agreed with Otto and wanted to know why the “stiff penalty” of fines are being imposed, especially for those who try to follow the rules.

“To create wiggle room for them is to throw in the towel with the renegades because then we’ve got nothing we can do to them, period,” Blake said. “I’m not willing to throw in the towel.”

Mayor pro tem Tom Widmer said this is “one of the most challenging issues this council has faced,” and said he sees where Fouche and Otto are coming from, but he urged them to reconsider.

“Friends, my responsibility, and I think yours too, is to the residents of this town,” Widmer said. “That’s who we are supporting. We love the relationship with the bear club, but you’ve got to protect our residents and guests.”

All five commissioners voted to pass the solid waste disposal, bear feeding and prohibiting the release of hunting dogs ordinances. Otto was the sole dissident for the trespassing and dog control ordinances.

Following the vote on bear hunting ordinances, the board voted to approve the appointment of Margaret “Mari” Gramling to the Board of Adjustment to fill an unexpired regular position to expire Sept. 30, 2025.

Montreat Zoning Administrator Kayla DiCristina made a presentation for the board to discuss access to a lot off Harmony Lane. The Board of Commissioners was to discuss whether or not the area in questions is considered unopened right-of-way.

Blake said the matter was not one of legislation, but one of “fact and law” and called the particular property a “strange chameleon.”

Gary Higgins, who is interested in purchasing the property, said he is looking for “assurance” from the board.

The board asked Higgins and DiCristina to come back with more information before they moved forward with anything

The board moved to appoint DiCristina as review officer for the town before going into closed session and closing the meeting.