TIFFIN– Local hunters may soon be able to expand their territories into Tiffin city limits, if the council’s reading of an ordinance amendment passes one more time.
The Tiffin City Council has passed two readings of an amendment that will allow hunting on private property inside city limits, with distance restrictions that reflect Iowa’s current law.
The town’s hunting regulations came up for discussion as Tiffin continues to move slowly toward additional annexations of rural property into the city. Some rural property owners have expressed willingness to voluntarily annex, but with caveats.
“We basically promised them they could still burn their refuse, and still hunt on their property. In order to entice them, you have to give them something they want to do,” said council member Jim Bartels.
Current city code allows hunting on properties zoned as agricultural land (A-1) with a proper application. But when Tiffin’s zoning code was updated in 2009, no agricultural zoned properties remained inside the city, yet there were landowners who still wanted to hunt on their own properties. Therefore, the city’s code required a change in order to accommodate them.
On May 22, councilor Mike Ryan suggested removing the zoning references in the city’s code, which would effectively allow hunting anywhere within city limits upon city approval of a completed application.
The proposed change has the support of council majority, but only by a slim margin. Council members Royce Phillips and Joan Kahler have twice voted against it, and reiterated their concerns at the council’s regular meetings on May 22 and again last Wednesday, June 12.
Iowa code states hunters must not discharge a firearm within 200 yards of occupied buildings or feed lots unless a property owner gives permission, and Tiffin’s law would mirror that limitation, as well as prohibiting hunting within 200 yards of the city’s trail. However, Phillips doesn’t find that reassuring.
“What if some kid wanders off the trail?” Phillips posed.
Ryan countered that hunting is allowed in public areas elsewhere, and it would be impossible to cover every contingency.
“It’s a public area. People could wander in front of a stray slug, I suppose,” said Ryan. “If we are going to allow hunting, there’s risk with it. That’s the bottom line.”
Phillips remained unconvinced that it was a good idea.
“If you can’t give me some kind of assurance that my grandkid won’t get shot at City Park, then I can’t support it,” Phillips said.
Kahler questioned the ability to enforce the distance restriction.
“Who is going to control where (people) are hunting?” Kahler argued.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Wildlife Bureau, under legislative requirements, set regulations for hunters statewide, and makes recommendations to the state’s Natural Resource Commission for aspects like duration of seasons for specific game, bag limits and allowable hunting devices. Upon order from Governor Branstad’s office, the bureau began taking public input each spring to help form their recommendations to the commission, so the laws can change slightly from year to year, noted Shawn Meier, DNR District Law Enforcement Supervisor for Southeast Iowa.
Meier said several municipalities have laws allowing hunting within city limits, including special hunting seasons set up to help control animal populations that become a nuisance. The DNR’s Hunting and Trapping Regulations handbook lists 19 Iowa cities of various sizes that have deer management hunts each year, and others allow for hunting to control migratory birds like geese. However, each city can determine hunting regulations for its own jurisdiction, and those regulations can be more restrictive than Iowa’s code.
For example, a city can make hunting illegal on public property, and Tiffin’s ordinance would do just that.
Tiffin city attorney Robert Michael advised the council last week that under the city’s existing public health and safety ordinance, it would still be illegal to use a dangerous instrument on public ground without written consent of the council. Further, the proposed amendment has a provision for private landowners to give permission to hunt on their properties within city limits, and Michael interprets it to mean public property is still off limits for hunting, he said.
“Is that what you are intending? Michael asked.
“It wasn’t so much that we didn’t want (hunting) on public property,” said councilwoman Peggy Upton. “It was that we didn’t want to restrict it by zoning. For instance, there are areas zoned commercial but that are remote that people hunt on, and we didn’t want to restrict landowners who wanted to allow hunting on their property.”
The three council members in support of permitting hunting were comfortable with the amendment as written, less concerned about prohibiting it in public areas as protecting the rights of private property owners. They collectively declined Michael’s offer to further discuss hunting on public property.
“I like it better,” Ryan said.
Phillips said Michael’s interpretation made him feel a bit better, but not good enough.
“It’s insane to allow hunting in city parks. In fact, I don’t want to leave it at the mercy of a judge interpreting (the ordinance),” Phillips said. “I want it spelled out: no hunting in city parks.”
Michael said he felt the city’s existing code and the new amendment would cover city parks as well, and Mayor Steve Berner agreed.
“It seems to do what we’re looking for it to do,” Berner said, referring to Michael’s distinction between private landowners and the city as a public entity. “We can’t even issue a permit for public ground because this ordinance does not allow it.”
The second reading of the amendment passed 3-2, with Kahler and Phillips voting against it.
The third and final reading of the amendment is expected to appear on the council’s agenda for its June 26 meeting, with a public hearing scheduled at the beginning of the meeting.