SPRING HILL — Residents who complained earlier this year that duck hunting on the canals off Hunters Lake had turned their waterside homes into war zones can look forward to a quieter hunting season this winter.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted July 18 to approve a request by the Hernando County Commission to restrict hunting on the canals.
The restricted hunting area designation prohibits hunting on several canals around the lake, but not on the body of the lake itself, which covers about 430 acres, according to Fish and Wildlife documents. It's just the third time in the past 20 years the Conservation Commission has designated a restricted hunting area, spokesperson Tammy Sapp said.
In January, residents spoke before the Hernando County Commission. They described a regular barrage of shotgun blasts that unsettled veterans and service dogs and left parents in fear of letting their children play outside. Some reported stray shots that ripped through pool screens or shattered windows.
In March, the County Commission voted to ask the Conservation Commission to designate 24 canals as a bird sanctuary, which would have prohibited hunters from pursuing duck on the canals. The County Commission itself lacks the authority to regulate hunting, county attorney Garth Coller said at the time.
Sapp said at the time the agency hadn't designated a bird sanctuary in more than 20 years. The agency didn't take that step in this case, either, but it did see reason to stop hunting on the canals.
"The Hernando County Commission believes that waterfowl hunting in the canals and waterways linking (Spring Hill) with Hunters Lake poses a public safety concern," reads a memorandum to the Conservation Commission from hunting and game management director Morgan Richardson. "... staff has assessed the area under consideration and believes the limited area being proposed for closure to hunting will not result in a denial of reasonable and lawful hunting opportunity."
More than 5,000 people live within half a mile of the lake, County Commission chairman Jeff Holcomb wrote in March in a letter to the Conservation Commission. The area also includes Westside Elementary School and the Spring Hill campus of Pasco-Hernando State College, which abuts the lake.
Among those neighbors is Christopher Anger, who spoke out against the hunting in January. Upon learning that the Conservation Commission had barred hunting on the canals, Anger said he was delighted. Despite his skepticism of government at work, he said, it made him feel like civic engagement still works for people without political connections.
"I was able to tell a couple of my neighbors, and they are just really excited about it," he said. "For me, it's giving me hope that the little guy does still have a voice."
Anger looks forward to a hunting season where the only sounds of gunshots come from off in the distance.
Contact Jack Evans at email@example.com. Follow @JackHEvans.