The City requests a workshop to discuss duck hunting on the lakes

Lakeland City Commissioners today addressed the emotionally charged issue of duck hunting on the city’s lakes after receiving emails from residents along Parker Lake who complained about the recent explosions pre-dawn shotguns near their homes and a city recreation trail that runs along the lake.

For residents, hunting near neighborhoods poses a threat to safety and tranquility. For three hunters who spoke at today’s commission meeting, hunting on any part of Parker Lake is legal and any suggestion that it be curtailed is an affront to conservation, to possession of arms and heritage.

Commissioners called on all parties to be considerate of one another and directed their staff to host a public workshop with representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to disseminate all sides of the issue and explore the options.

Judy Kahler-Jalbert took up the Commissioners’ theme of civility and good neighbourliness. “It’s about coexistence,” she said after the meeting. “It’s not anti-gun.”

Judy Kahler-Jalbert along the west shore of Lake Parker this afternoon near a sign for the Lakeshore neighborhood. It opposes recent hunting in the heavily residential southwestern part of the lake.

During the meeting, she told the stewards that she comes from a family of duck hunters and that her 92-year-old father, a long-time hunter, “would have been one of the first to go out on the course of health by telling hunters that what they were doing was not doing anything to promote duck hunting, and he would never have dreamed of filming so close to houses and a fitness trail.

Three hunting advocates spoke at today’s meeting. “I don’t understand why this conversation is moving forward,” said Travis Thompson of Winter Haven, a full-time hunting guide. “I think there’s a lack of understanding between the city, what hunting and conservation means, and being anti-guns or the perceived safety of guns. In the history of the world – I applied for registration with FWC – there has never been an injury from a waterfowl hunter injuring a non-hunter.

The people who have come to Lake Parker three times in the past few weeks to hunt black-bellied whistling ducks did nothing illegal, he said. Under state law, hunting is legal in all publicly accessible state waters, such as Lake Parker.

Since the hunters didn’t do anything illegal, Thompson said, “It’s either about being anti-hunting and anti-conservation or being anti-gun.” It can’t be noise, he said, because the city has other noise issues, like the roar of Amazon cargo planes.

black-bellied whistling ducks meet at a dock near the recreational trail on the west side of Parker Lake. In the background is the Heritage Landings neighborhood on the peninsula north of The Lakes Church.

Wildlife is a Florida state public trust resource, he said. “The state owns it. The state holds it in trust. The City of Lakeland does not have the ability to control who can and cannot hunt this wildlife.

An article on the Lake Parker hunting issue published in The Ledger over the weekend mentioned a proposal being considered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to establish a procedure for designating restricted hunting areas. But even if the proposal passes, Thompson said, the recent Parker Lake hunt would have been allowed because hunters were more than 300 feet from residential driveways.

Another speaker, local resident Andrew Spicer, said he was among the Lake Parker Hunters. He cited illegal harassment of hunters by residents, including two who insulted them and one who blew a buzzer to scare away their prey.

Another speaker was a Tampa resident who said he hunted frequently in Polk County and participated in one of the Parker Lake hunts. (I’m not sure of his name, it sounded like PR Cherry.) He told the marshals that the hunters always fired in a safe direction. “We would obviously never pull into a road of someone’s private property because that would be illegal and dangerous.”

Growth in Polk County means there are fewer rural areas to hunt, he said: “The lakes that I once hunted that had no houses around them now have houses around them. You could hunt on the Parker Lake side where there are no houses, but there are no ducks there, so why would we go there to hunt? We go where the ducks are.

After hunting advocates spoke out, commissioners responded to the suggestion that hunting is not a city affair by saying it’s their job to address issues raised by residents.

Phillip Walker, the longest-serving commissioner, said it was the first time the subject had come up in 12 years in office. “When people approach us, we have to talk about it,” he said. It’s about having a dialogue, not imposing restrictions, he said.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden said the commission provides a forum to discuss things. “That’s exactly what we’re here for: to be good neighbours. I completely understand that we have someone here advocating on behalf of their neighborhood and someone here advocating for gun ownership and hunting, which is a priority in the state of Florida.

Commissioner Sara McCarley Roberts said she grew up in East Polk with a grandfather who taught her how to fish and hunt. “I understand that there is a label to this. I know I’m not allowed to shoot in a grove. I know that I am not allowed to shoot in certain directions.

Neighborhoods need to understand there is a tag, she said. “It’s not about guns in my mind. It’s about etiquette and consideration of living within the city limits – how can we help and work together… If you all can being respectful of each other, I think that would help moving forward, I don’t think it has to be a question full of animosity and ranting.

Commissioners Mike Musick and Chad McLeod said they wanted to hear about the issues, but did not want to restrict legal hunting rights.

Commissioner Bill Read, who travels to Apalachicola and Lake Kissimmee to hunt ducks, said he hadn’t considered hunting on Lake Parker, where he lives; he predicted that now that more people realize duck hunting is legal on Lake Parker, there will be many more hunters there when the 60-day hunting season reopens next September.

Mayor Bill Mutz closed the conversation by asking City Attorney Palmer Davis to hold a public hunting workshop with FWC and a call for a “mutual go-between.”

“We live today in a world that wants to polarize left or right; it’s this or that. It’s about a mutual environment and understanding. These are people with the civility to be as concerned about others as they represent what they have the right to be able to do.

MORE COVERAGE: Original The Ledger article and meeting coverage (subscribers only) | News Channel 8 (link to come)