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City Council president looks to keep city safe

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Sunday, Dec. 9, 2007

Pittsburgh was once a part of America's frontier, where settlers, adventurers and armies hacked homesteads out of the wilderness, hunted for their food, and battled over empire.

Those days are long gone, but some people haven't gotten the message, said Pittsburgh City Council president Doug Shields.

Each year, Shields said, an untold number of people trespass on city-owned property like Frick Park, Riverview Park and the greenways around Hazelwood to hunt deer and other game. Just this year, Shields said a hunter called his office to get permission to hunt on city land "in the wilds of New Homestead within the 31st Ward."

He wants that hunting to stop. That's why, just recently, Shields -- a former hunter himself -- asked the Pennsylvania Game Commission to declare the entire city a safety zone and off limits to hunting.

"Basically, it's a question of common sense in my mind," Shields said. "This isn't like you're going down to the river to fish. You're dealing with a firearm. Certainly, with our population density, hunting in the city isn't the safest thing in the world to be doing."

Game Commission officials say they don't have the authority to do what Shields is asking, though.

State lawmakers -- not the Game Commission -- establish safety zone limits by statute, said commission press secretary Jerry Feaser. Right now, sportsmen are prohibited from hunting within 150 yards of any occupied building, barn, or playground of any school, nursery school or day-care center with a firearm and within 50 yards with a bow unless they have the landowner's permission.

The commission does not have the ability to supersede those rules and simply close the city to hunting, added Joe Neville, director of the Game Commission's information and education bureau.

If the city wants to ban hunting on its own property, it should post it that way, Neville said. That's apparently not going to happen, though.

Shields asked Scott Kunka, director of finance for the city and the man whose department is in charge of city real estate, to consider posting all city-owned property against hunting. Kunka did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Shields, though, said he was told that the city does not want to get involved with the time, expense and "headache" of trying to post its property and then police it.

In the meantime, Shields has also asked state Rep. Harry Readshaw and state Sen. Jay Costa, both Allegheny County Democrats, for their help in eliminating hunting within the city. While both said they are willing to listen to the city's concerns, they also stopped short of saying they would support a ban.

"I am not in favor of completely banning hunting within the city of Pittsburgh," Costa said. "I'm not sure how much opportunity there is to hunt within the city limits anyway. But I think you have to be careful when you go down that path."

Readshaw sponsored legislation, signed by the Governor last year, that protects property owners from liability if a hunting or firearms accident occurs on their property. Drafted with private landowners in mind, it would also extend to the city, he believes.

If the city is still concerned enough that it wants to ban hunting, however, he'd want to see a concrete proposal before saying whether he could support it.

"The first step is the city's," Readshaw said.

One thing Pittsburgh government can't do is simply ban hunting -- on both public and private property within the city -- on its own, Neville said. A community in eastern Pennsylvania tried that, only to see its rule overturned by a judge.

Shields, though, wants to see something done.

"We have some problems and they need to be addressed," he said. Additional Information:

Playing both sides

When you talk about wildlife within the city limits of Pittsburgh, the big issue -- as is the case almost everywhere else -- centers around white-tailed deer.

The city has lots of them. That's why the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Joe Neville isn't convinced eliminating hunting within the city limits is anything anyone should want.

'It would be a shame to stop legal hunting because the deer population would go through the roof,' Neville said. 'They should be encouraging archers to be there.'

City council president Doug Shields isn't so sure. He's 'well aware that we have an overpopulation of deer within the city of Pittsburgh,' he said. But it's the Game Commission's job to figure out how to address that. So far, though, it hasn't, he said.

'Those are the Game Commission's deer, not mine. Along with the raccoons, groundhogs and everything else. It's their responsibility to come up with a game management plan for the City of Pittsburgh,' Shields said.

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