Hunters are up in arms over Jackson County ordinance

07/27/2014 11:32 PM

07/28/2014 6:58 PM

Archery deer season opens in September in Missouri, and firearms deer season starts in some areas in October.

But unless something changes, the only shooting that Wade Noland will do this fall on his property may be with a camera.

“I don’t want to break the law,” said Noland, a retired pipefitter who has hunted legally on land he’s owned southwest of Grain Valley for 45 years.

A Jackson County ordinance now prohibits that.

Approved in December, the ordinance outlaws shooting firearms or arrows anywhere within irregular patches of eastern Jackson County land that stretch from near Greenwood in the south to near Sugar Creek in the north. For 20 years, the county has referred to the areas as its “urban development tier.”

The Jackson County Legislature and law enforcement officials passed the ordinance to discourage negligent gun owners within those areas from firing bullets toward nearby homes. Legislators also prohibited firing weapons in any manner that allows bullets, pellets or arrows to travel beyond property boundaries.

But the ordinance has confused and angered some eastern Jackson County landowners like Noland, who say it prohibits them from hunting on their property.

It also concerns state conservation officials, who believe the ordinance affects three conservation or wildlife areas where the department organizes controlled hunts to manage deer populations.

County legislators are expected to discuss and perhaps amend the ordinance when they meet today in Independence.

It passed by voice vote in December. But Noland said he only learned of its existence in June, when a county sheriff’s representative responding to a traffic accident near his home mentioned it to him.

“They really didn’t think this out very well,” said Noland, whose barn rafters are lined with deer antlers. Photos of trophy deer hunted or photographed on his land fill family scrapbooks.

His family’s 30-foot-high deer stand, with its glass windows and foam-lined bench — Noland calls it his “deer condo” — offers a sweeping view to the north and east. Noland, his three children and five grandchildren long have hunted from that vantage point, but also have spent time there just observing the wildlife.

“Sometimes we just watch what God made go by,” Noland said during a recent visit. “Deer, turkey, foxes, bobcats. It’s a blessing.”

But his property is within the urban development tier, according to the county’s map.

In December, Jay Haden, the county’s chief deputy counsel, told members of the legislature’s justice and law enforcement committee that the previous ordinance’s language against discharging weapons in “densely populated areas” would be difficult to enforce if the county elected to take a case to court. That’s because the ordinance lacked a definition of “densely populated.”

Prohibiting firing of weapons in the urban development tier, Haden said, “will allow this charge to be proved if we ever need to file it.”

Jackson County Legislator Greg Grounds, one of the four legislators who sponsored the ordinance change, said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp had told him of several incidents involving stray bullets striking homes in eastern Jackson County.

In one incident, Grounds said, a bullet struck a house as children played in the yard.

Sharp said about nine incidents have been reported since 2012. His deputies needed clear language in the county code to discourage such carelessness, he said.

“We were just trying to get a definition of ‘densely populated,’” Sharp said. “The next thing I knew, they were passing an ordinance that included an ‘urban development tier.’”

Deputies now carry maps showing the tier area, Sharp said. Although nobody has been charged under the new ordinance, he said, deputies have advised property owners of it.

Even though he co-sponsored the ordinance, Grounds now believes it was “over broad.”

“It is limiting the legitimate hunting rights of people who bought property outside of municipalities with the expectation that they could use it for a number of different things,” he said.

Grounds hopes that legislators will consider an amendment he has drafted that would delete the urban development tier language but maintain a prohibition on projectiles traveling beyond property boundaries.

Meanwhile, the state Conservation Department wants to make sure the county doesn’t impede the department’s efforts to manage the deer population.

The current ordinance appears to affect parts of the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, Jim Bridger Urban Conservation Area and Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area. The department conducts managed deer hunts in all three areas, said Tim Ripperger, the department’s deputy director.

The state’s 500,000 deer hunters have an extremely high safety rate, Ripperger said.

“We are continuing to work with the county on this,” he said.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

Coming up

The ordinance is expected to be discussed during a Jackson County Legislature committee meeting at 2 p.m. today at the Jackson County Courthouse Annex, 308 W. Kansas Ave., Independence.

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