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Burlington aims to allow bow hunting on landlocked parcel

Bow hunting may soon be a sanctioned recreational activity in Burlington’s so-called landlocked parcel.

The Board of Selectmen has voted to develop a policy that would allow bow hunting for deer — with restrictions to protect public safety — within the 250-acre site. A committee will work out the details and then present the policy to selectmen for a vote.

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The board’s action followed several months of discussion and debate involving local bow hunters and others about allowing the sport on the heavily wooded town property.

The landlocked parcel was acquired by Burlington through eminent domain in 1985. It is so named because Burlington residents, separated from the site by Route 3, have no direct access. The only access points are in Bedford and Lexington.

Selectman Dan Grattan, who investigated the issue for the board, said he concluded that bow hunting should be allowed on the parcel under controlled conditions. Grattan offered the motion to develop the policy, which passed on a vote of 3 to 1, with one member absent.

“I want to keep it open for as many recreational uses as possible, but we need to do it in a way that we can manage it,” said Grattan, who was seeking to convene the committee on Friday.

But Selectman Robert C. Hogan believes the parcel should be off-limits to bow hunting.

‘A lot of people have been doing it for a lot of years.’ Dan Grattan, Burlington selectman

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“For a while now, we have been encouraging folks to start using the landlocked parcel . . . for a lot of reasons,” Hogan said, “Scouts, walking groups, bike groups.” He said he fears some of those users might not be aware when bow hunting is occurring, and could inadvertently enter areas where they would be in danger.

“There are a number of places where bow hunting is allowed, and I can’t imagine people’s lives would be detrimentally affected if there is no bow hunting on this one piece of property,” he said.

Hogan added that as a compromise, he might be willing to vote in favor of a policy if it allows for sufficient restrictions to protect safety.

Selectmen first began addressing the issue last fall, after Grattan said he was contacted by people who said they had come upon bow hunters while hiking in the parcel.

He said the board soon learned that hunting is not legal in the landlocked parcel, since state law prohibits it on any municipal property unless the responsible governing body has authorized it. Selectmen had never voted to allow hunting there.

“The other thing we learned was that a lot of people have been doing it for a lot of years,” Grattan said. “Everyone was more or less unaware of it because nobody else was using it.”

But over the past few years, Grattan said, more and more residents have started using the parcel for other recreational activities, attributing that change to the publicity generated by a controversial plan to develop the property that was rejected by Town Meeting in 2008.

He said selectmen last fall decided to explore whether the town should create a policy to allow bow hunting, and assigned him to the task. As part of his work, he held a public forum at which he heard from both sides on the issue.

Grattan said that of the people in town who have spoken to him about the policy, “roughly half are in favor, and half don’t want to see it.”

The state has an annual archery deer season from the six weeks prior to Thanksgiving to the Saturday following it, according to Grattan.

Grattan said possible restrictions the committee might consider would include allowing bow hunting on the parcel for only a portion of the six-week season. Others would include issuing a limited number of permits to bow hunters.

Joseph Morandi, a longtime bow hunter from Burlington who will serve on the committee, said he is extremely happy that selectmen decided to develop the policy, “because bow hunting is very safe.”

“I’ve been up there 20 years,” he added of the parcel, “and there has never been an issue with a person or some pet or anything else.”

Morandi said he is among a small number of people — he estimates 10 or 15 a year — who have been bow hunting at the landlocked parcel over the years.

He said those who bow hunt do so only in season. He said they have never given much thought to whether it was prohibited by the town, since it never seemed an issue.

Morandi said there are other places to bow-hunt in the region, noting that Andover and Billerica allow it on some of their municipal properties, and that it is permitted in Harold Parker State Forest, which stretches into parts of Andover, Middleton, North Andover, and North Reading.

“I don’t want to have something taken away from me that I have been doing for a long time just because someone doesn’t like it,” Morandi said.

The Friends of the Landlocked Forest, a group that helps maintain the parcel and advocates for its protection, did not take a stance on bow hunting, according to the group’s president, Martha Simon.

“Our position is that if there is bow hunting, which there is now clearly going to be, we have concerns about it being safe because of how many people there are using the forest, and how can it be enforced,” said Simon, who will also serve on the committee.

But Morandi contended there is no cause for safety concerns, saying that there has not been a recorded accident in Massachusetts involving someone being injured by a bow hunter since the state began keeping records decades ago. The state requires bow hunters to have a certificate from a basic hunter education course.

Morandi said bow hunters stand atop tree stands, which give them a clear view of the surrounding area.

“If someone is walking down the trail, you can see them.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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