Montreat continues fight against rogue bear hunters
MONTREAT - A forum about the town's new bear hunting ordinances attracted around a dozen residents to Montreat Town Hall for a town forum Oct. 17.
Mayor Tim Helms said the ordinances were passed because of a “bad experience last year in the community” involving rogue bear hunters letting hunting dogs loose to chase bears throughout residential neighborhoods in the town.
Following the incident, Commissioner Mason Blake and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Widmer worked to find solutions and to prevent something similar from happening again.
“We embarked on a journey involving a lot of people,” Blake said. “Certainly not just me, of really nine months time looking at how do we regulate, what do we regulate and what do we need to be doing ourselves.”
Blake said after the incident he learned there was “very little” the police department could legally do to rogue hunters and wanted to work to change that. In order to do so, he presented a series of five new and revised ordinances to the board during Oct. 13’s regular session meeting. All five ordinances were passed.
Blake said the town was facing a “multifaceted problem that will take a multifaceted approach,” and that there is more to the solution that passing ordinances, but it is a good place to start.
He said he wanted to make sure it was known that the new ordinances are not directed at the Mt. Mitchell Bear Hunting Club as its members have been good about working with the town and obeying laws. Instead, the ordinances are directed at the “wrong-doers.”
The first ordinance prohibits the release of hunting dogs in town limits. Hunters caught doing so would face a third-degree misdemeanor and a criminal fine of up to $200 or 20 days in jail. They will also be subject to a civil penalty of $2,500.
Blake said hunters releasing their dogs in town limits do not “deserve a warning.”
“If somebody lets a hunting dog loose in Montreat, it’s going to be a bad day if we catch them,” Blake said.
The second ordinance makes it illegal for someone to retrieve two or more dogs from private property without permission from the owner or if being escorted by a Montreat police officer. Penalties include a criminal fine of up to $200 and/or 20 days in jail in addition to a civil penalty of $500.
The third ordinance prohibits town residents from feeding bears. After the first violation, the resident will receive a written warning and a $100 fine for the second violation, $250 fine for the third and a $500 fine for each subsequent violation.
The fourth ordinance is a revision of the dog control ordinance, making penalties harsher when multiple dogs are involved and when the incident occurs in a populated area. Under the revision, there is a $250 violation for each of the dogs involved in the first violation and a $500 fine for each dog with subsequent violations.
The fifth and final ordinance is a revision to the solid waste disposal ordinance. Under the new revisions, first-time offenders who do not place solid waste in a trash can or bear-proof container will receive a written warning. A $100 fine will be issued for the second violation, $250 for the third and $500 for each subsequent violation. Residents can also now dispose of waste at the convenience center located new town hall at any point.
Widmer said there are other measure being taken as part of this initiative that are not part of the ordinances, including a partnership with Mt. Mitchell Bear Hunting Club.
Though no one from the club spoke at the forum, Widmer showed a sticker that all club members will have on their vehicles. He urged those present to “be on the lookout for nefarious behavior” if they do not see a sticker on a bear hunters' vehicles.
Widmer said that communicating to property owners is also a measure being taken to help with the issue.
“It’s not just an issue of ordinances, it’s an issue of communicating,” Widmer said.
He went on to list some of the rights and responsibilities residents have when dealing with the issue, including reporting any incidents or suspicious behavior to the police and making sure trash is deposited in the correct location, regardless of whether they or a guest is staying at the home.
Magnets were passed out to the crowd detailing what to do if a resident has an issue with a hunting dog or bear hunter. These magnets, along with a packet of information presented at the meeting, will be mailed to all residents with an upcoming water bill.
During the public comment period, residents thanked Blake and Widmer for their work and got clarification on some of the information.
“This is not an anti-bear hunting effort,” Blake said. “It’s a pro-safety effort. That’s what we set out to do and hopefully that’s what we accomplished.”