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Taking Back our Forests

by Nicole Rivard

During the first weekend of fall, I joined my friend and her 9-year-old son for a run in Mohawk State Forest in Goshen, Conn., which the public has been enjoying since 1921.

When we were about a mile-anda-half down a dirt road that winds through the forest, a car pulled up alongside of us, and the driver cautioned us that we should be wearing orange because the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection had opened up sections of Mohawk State Forest to firearms deer and turkey hunting. 

After he pulled away, my friend’s son said, “Mom I don’t want to run here anymore, I don’t want to get shot.”  His fear, sadly, is not unwarranted. A front page story in USA Today on August 11, 2015, read: “Forests grapple with 8,500 gun incidents.”

The article was prompted by the death of 60-year-old Glenn Martin, who was sitting around a secluded campfire with his family in the Pike and San Isabel National Forest in Colorado, waiting to roast marshmallows, when a wayward bullet struck and killed him. The 3.1 million- acre forest holds the record for most gun-related violations reported in the country, according to a review of federal records by the USA Today Media Network.  

Records show that since 2010, United States Forest Service officers have handled 8,500 shooting incidents across the country. Of those 926 were in the Pike-San Isabel. The reported illegal shooting has intensified precipitously in recent years. In the forest district where Martin was killed, the number of firearms-related incidents, warnings and citations jumped from 65 over a 12-month period starting in July 2013 to 324 over the comparable period ending in July 2015.  

Shooting is generally legal on national forest land except in marked areas, across roadways, near recreation sites and without a backstop. But whether it’s illegal or legal shooting or hunting, the problem with allowing such activities in areas of concentrated recreation use is that while hunters and shooters may know and obey property boundaries, their bullets cannot. 

While the USA Today article says that it is unclear how many of the shooting incidents are tied to hunting, Joe Miele, president of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, which tracks hunting accidents nationwide, said he has observed a spike in hunting accidents in recent years. Some of that, he believes, is the internet’s ability to bring more news to everyone and competition between media outlets for something that will peak the interests of readers. 

On C.A.S.H’s website,, eight shooting accidents tied to hunting, which resulted in fatalities, are listed just for the month of September 2015, including another in a Colorado national forest. Fourteenyear-old Justin Burns died of a gunshot wound to his chest at Big Creek Reservoir in the Uncompahgre National Forest.

The frightening thing about this incident is it wasn’t the result of illegal shooting—the teen was a licensed hunter bow-hunting with his father, and the man who accidently shot him was also a licensed hunter. Archery and muzzleloader season for various big game was in effect in Colorado at the time of the shooting. Bear rifle season was also active across the state.  

The good thing about the exposure of these incidents in the media is campers and other recreationists are finally calling for changes in hunting and recreational shooting policy. And nothing pleases Friends of Animals more than to hear that.

Our work has always involved giving a voice to the non-hunting majority so it can take back forests and state parks from hunters, not only so animals don’t have to senselessly lose their lives to the recreational violence called hunting, but because it is putting innocent people like Glenn Martin at risk.  We, like the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, are sick and tired of “the silent economy that encourages and preys on the passion of a few to kill the wildlife that belongs to all.”

State wildlife agencies receive funding from hunter license fees and taxes on guns and ammo—a clear conflict of interest that explains why wildlife is not respected, but treated merely as a target for hunters and why our state parks and forests are being turned into killing grounds. That recreationists have to fear for their lives while enjoying nature in our country’s forests and state parks is atrocious, and that state agencies profit from it, criminal.  

“We need to take a multi-faceted approach to the problem of hunters turning common recreational areas into war zones,” Miele said. “I believe a big part of this needs to be political, as we must put officials in place that are wildlife friendly and willing to stand up to the hunting agencies and conservation officers who want to continually expand hunting.”


Miele says that even though there are far more people who want to protect wildlife than those who want to destroy it, they do not always speak with a unified voice or take action.   Using Connecticut as an example, the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, found that 1.4 million Connecticut residents and nonresidents over the age of 15 fished, hunted or wildlife-watched. Of the total number of participants, 342,000 fished, 50,000 hunted, and 1.2 million participated in wildlife-watching activities, which includes observing, feeding and photographing wildlife.

Since Connecticut’s population is approximately 3.6 million, that means that only 1.4 percent of Connecticut’s population hunts, yet hunting is allowed in all but three of the state’s 32 state forests.

According to the state, from 2004- 2014 there were 23 hunting related accidents in Connecticut, including one fatality in 2011. While only one involved injury to a non-hunter, we think that’s one too many.  

“Recreational hunting interests attend city council and county commission meetings and speak up for what they want. They vote for people who will support guns and hunting, and no other issues matter to them,” Miele explained. 

“We, on the other hand, tend to have a broader world-view and consider other topics to also be of great importance, and we tend to vote for those who are in line with most of our positions. This is a problem for wildlife.

“How many wildlife advocates will vote for a mayor who is anti-abortion and anti-immigration, but also anti-hunting?   Many wildlife advocates see an R next to a candidate’s name and immediately vote for their opponent, without knowing where the person stands on the topic of hunting and wildlife.” 

  “Wildlife advocates need to vote for the candidate who will be most wildlife friendly.  If we are to see legal change for the animals, we have to ignore other issues when we cast our vote,” Miele said.

“That’s what we need to do—to decide that animal issues matter more than anything else and to cast our votes along those lines.  Society has elected officials who support hunting for two reasons: because the pro-hunting vote is unified, and because the pro-animal voter takes more than just animal issues into consideration.” 

  Miele says another problem is a lack of activism in the pro-wildlife community.   

“It’s true that we’re a silent majority, but those who silently oppose hunting are the ones who are creating an environment where hunting can progress unopposed for the most part,” Miele said. 

“Very few people contact their elected officials in defense of wildlife, and a fraction of those take the time to attend public meetings and hearings to speak against anti-wildlife proposals. Imagine what would happen if 200 people turned out at a county commissioner’s meeting speaking out against a proposed hunt in a public park.  Instead, two or three people turn out and all too often one of them is wearing fake deer antlers or carrying a toy stuffed bear. We’re not going to be taken seriously if we’re not numerous and professional.”


Friends of Animals is thrilled to learn from The Denver Post that dozens of concerned residents packed into an information session about the Colorado Forest Service’s new plan for the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests that it hopes will cut down on the mounting tension between shooters and other recreationalists.

The proposal aims to eliminate shooting on lands that are less than a half-mile from homes or in areas of highly concentrated recreational use. It also calls for at least one shooting range in each of the seven counties where the forests lie. 

One resident said, “I think the jury is out, allowing shooting within a halfmile of homes is too close.” 

We at Friends of Animals have a better idea: Why not just ban hunting in state forests altogether? We plan to get legislation introduced in Connecticut that would do just that.  

In the meantime, wildlife watchers, you can make a difference. Reach out to your local elected officials and tell them you do not support hunting in your local state forest.

While the state DEEP doesn’t have a formal mechanism for public participation when it is going through the process of determining whether its lands are suitable for hunting, such as the case with Mohawk State Forest, it does consult with local elected officials to get their input.

In Connecticut it is even possible to reverse a decision and eliminate hunting from an area. The public can petition the DEEP commissioner under the statute Section 26-67c (a), which authorizes him or her to amend hunting regulations for certain localities where such hunting poses an unreasonable risk to people and domestic animals, etc. 

Hunting interests count on a lack of community activism to get their way with local governments. The miniscule percent of hunters in Connecticut and across the nation may feel entitled to turn the great outdoors into a killing field—but the majority of people just want a place to connect with nature without getting caught in any crossfire.

But being a silent majority is not doing human and non-human animals any good.