Hunters using Crow Wing County-managed public land have two more hunting seasons to enjoy their permanent tree stands.
On an unanimous vote, the Crow Wing County Board Wednesday adopted an ordinance prohibiting permanent hunting stands on county-managed public lands. The ordinance will go into effect Aug. 1, 2005.
County Land Commissioner Thomas Cowell said the effective date was extended to give the county time to educate the public about the ordinance and to implement it.
The ordinance prohibits hunters to construct, occupy or use any elevated device on county-managed public lands. Portable tree stands or portable free-standing stands can be used.
Hunters will not be able to place their portable or free standing stands until a week before Minnesota's big game hunting season and they must be removed no later than one day following the close of the season. Cowell said this allows hunters to put up their stands at the end of August and keep them up until the end of December.
Cowell said he patterned this policy from a Michigan policy. He said Wisconsin does not allow hunters to place their stands a week before.
Cowell said the county has discussed prohibiting permanent hunting stands for the past 20 years. He said the problem has grown over the years, with more permanent tree stands existing as well as the stands becoming larger in size.
Lansin Hamilton, former county land commissioner, agreed and said the permanent hunting stands have gotten out of hand. He said back in the '40s he recalls when tree stands were made out of a small piece of wood big enough to sit down in. Now he said the stands are like fish houses up in a tree.
"This is public land, not private and it can't be allowed anymore," said Hamilton about permanent tree stands. "The public land is for everyone to use and they should not have to look at all the messes created by them."
Cowell said the purpose of the ordinance was to promote public safety and to minimize damage to trees from the stands for logging and milling purposes. The ordinance applies to everyone and state mandates will help accommodate people with a handicap, said Cowell.
About 16 residents attended the public hearing. A majority spoke in favor of the ordinance.
Gary Guida of Wolford Township, a retired conservation officer, said he supports the ordinance. Guida, who also was a member of the ad-hoc committee that reviewed the ordinance, explained the evolution of how the tree stands have grown into castles.
He said he has not seen a tree stand yet that is handicapped-accessible. He said he is concerned about safety.
"I've spent a lot of time in the woods and there are two types of people," said Guida. "Some fall from their tree stands and some will fall."
Leo Sperl, Fifty Lakes, said it is more likely for him to fall out of a small portable stand than his permanent tree stand he has had for the past 34 years. He said at his age it would be difficult for him to use portable tree stands and shooting from the ground is not preferred.
Sperl said when he hunts he goes out before the sun rises and does not come home until it sets.
"Some people get a deer in 15 minutes and go home," he said. "I'm there all day and I need to take clothes and food. I need the permanent tree stand to store it all."
Dan Steward of Irondale Township said he originally was opposed to the ordinance, like Sperl. But after working with the ad-hoc committee, he changed his mind. He said public lands are becoming more crowded and this will only increase as the population grows.
Charles Blakeman of Fifty Lakes said he was opposed to the ordinance.
"For some reason this land department as well as Cass County make it as difficult as they can for the public to use county land," he said. "I have one of those big deer stands and it sits there at least 10 to 17 days. If I see two hunters I already have seen one more than I usually do."
Joe Rezac of Baxter, a member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said permanent deer stands are a problem in the county, but not in the state. He said he plans to work hard on the local level to convince people why this ordinance is necessary.
Tim Otterness, a junior at Brainerd High School, attended the public hearing as part of his government class. He did not plan to speak until after hearing others.
"It's getting bad," Otterness said about the permanent tree stands. "But as a hunter I'd rather be on a permanent one."
Otterness said if the ordinance passes people would be more likely to walk in the woods -- public and private -- and this could cause more accidents. He said handicapped people will not want to hunt from their vehicles and will want to be in the woods.
He also said most people cut the brush, not the trees, a concern noted in the ordinance. Hunters can only cut a tree branch if it is less than 1-inch in size. There are no restrictions to brush cutting.
County Commissioner John Ferrari said the pressure is on county land. He said Potlatch is selling its land and this may force more people to hunt on county land. He also said the number of tree stands on the Wolf Lake Trail has increased.
"This is not a restrictive ordinance," said Commissioner Gary Walters. "When I first heard of this I was shocked. I'm one like (County Chair) Dewey (Tautges) who'll scream all day about property rights, but this is everyone's rights. This is a freedom and I would like to see more access to the public."
Tautges, who only hunts on private land, said the county needs to give everyone equal access to public land. He also said that he does not disagree with Sperl's concerns.
Commissioner Ed Larsen said the county needs to deal with this problem since it is different from other counties in the state. He said the county is obtaining less land and commissioners need to protect the land the county has while protecting citizens' rights to use the land.
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