CANNON BEACH — Hunting will no longer be allowed in the Ecola Creek Forest Reserve.
The Cannon Beach City Council decided Tuesday night to discontinue hunting on the north side of the city-owned 1,040-acre parcel in the Ecola Creek Watershed. The vote was 4-1, with councilors Mike Benefield, George Vetter and Melissa Cadwallader and Mayor Mike Morgan supporting a motion to ban hunting. Wendy Higgins, who said the council should fulfill its commitment to allow hunting for five years, opposed the motion.
“I did vote for the bond measure (providing $4 million for the Ecola reserve); I like to hike; I’m not a hunter, although I don’t have opposition to people who are hunters; and I definitely agree that hunting does not fit the definition of passive recreation,” said Councilor Mike Benefield.
Noting that a majority of those responding to a survey conducted when the reserve was initially proposed said they didn’t want hunting and wanted to allow only “passive recreation” in the area, Benefield called the idea of hunting “intimidating.” Benefield, who was appointed to the council to fill a vacancy several months ago, didn’t originally vote to allow hunting.
“I think the City Council made a mistake allowing hunting on the property, and I will vote to eliminate it,” Benefield said.
Morgan called it a “contentious issue” in the community.
“I think it’s barely worth the effort,” said Mayor Mike Morgan. “I think it’s time to end it.
“We’ve had only five hunters,” he added. “For all the angst and anxiety this has caused in this community, I don’t think it’s worth it.”
Those in the audience who supported hunting said they would have hunted in the reserve, but they weren’t able to acquire a tag from the Oregon Department and Fish and Wildlife, which issues tags on a lottery basis. However, the tags aren’t specifically for the Ecola Reserve but for all 800 square miles of the Saddle Mountain Unit, where hunting is allowed.
They also said the fee the city charged was a deterrent. The city charged $200 for a hunting permit during the first year and $50 last year.
“Why are you discussing this today when you agreed hunting would be allowed for five years?” asked Troy Laws, a hunter from Seaside. “It’s a matter of integrity.”
Despite hikers’ fears of potential harm when hunters are in the reserve, no problems have occurred so far, said Herman Bierdebeck, ODFW wildlife biologist. Bierdebeck said land where hunting has been allowed for generations – including the Ecola Forest Reserve before the city acquired it from the state Department of Forestry – is increasingly being removed from hunters’ access.
“You can continue this experiment,” he told the council. “There haven’t been any problems that we’re aware of, so why not let it continue?
Councilor Melissa Cadwallader, who opposed hunting in the reserve when the council originally approved it, noted that the reserve was a “very small piece of land” in the Saddle Mountain Unit. She pointed out that the city-approved management plan for the reserve provides for “adaptive management” that allows policy adjustments for the reserve’s management if changes occur.
“The surveys are not in favor of hunting, and the bond measure approving the creation of the reserve calls for passive recreation,” Cadwallader said. “I thought we had defined it.”
Although Councilor George Vetter suggested that the council consider adding a “sunset” clause allowing hunting for another year, no motion was made, and it wasn’t considered.