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Plan Promotes Hunting in Coal Canyon : Land use: State cites recreational opportunities. Local environmentalists fear ecological damage.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state Fish and Game Commission plan to promote hunting in Coal Canyon has sparked bitter debate between environmentalists and sportsmen over the wildlife living in the dry, rugged hills here.

The proposal to designate the area an ecological reserve and allow hunting with bows and shotguns is supported by local hunters and Fish and Game officials, who say it would provide recreational opportunities without significantly reducing the wildlife population. The plan is scheduled to come before the commission Oct. 7 at its meeting in Palm Springs.

“One of the department’s mandates is to provide recreational hunting use of its lands wherever that activity does not impact the biological resources we are protecting,” said Bonnie Turner, land acquisition and management coordinator for the state Fish and Game Department. “The department has always tried to promote hunting and fishing on its lands because there is so little opportunity to do that on private lands.”

On the other side are local environmentalists and the Orange County Harbors, Beaches and Parks Commission, which this week adopted a resolution urging the state to disallow hunting.

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“We see the need to keep the area open for hikers and nature study groups,” said Gordon Ruser, a spokesman for the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club, which worked for the county resolution. “Hunting would deter people from going there just to look at the plants and the animals.”

Hunting is not specifically prohibited in Coal Canyon now, state officials note. But few hunters ever go there because it is relatively unknown and difficult to enter. Opponents argue that designating the area an ecological reserve open for hunting would bring in a swarm of hunters, attracted by its listing as a hunting area in Fish and Game publications.

“If it’s advertised in state publications, we would expect the hunting to increase,” Ruser said. “There are some species there that we feel would be jeopardized by the influx of hunting.”

The controversy is partially rooted in the way the land was acquired. Owned previously by private developers, the 952 acres near the Riverside Freeway in the northeast portion of the county was purchased by the state in 1991 with $4 million in bond money from Prop. 70, the California Wildlife, Coastal and Park Land Conservation Act.

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The initiative, which was approved in 1988, allowed the acquisition of open lands. Those opposed to hunting point out that none of the money came from hunting license fees.

Fish and Game officials, however, argue that hunting in the reserve is consistent with the traditional use of the areas next to it.

“Hunting is a historical activity in this area,” said John Anderson, a senior biologist with the department. “The reserve is directly adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest where hunting is allowed.

“We’ve had our biologists and plant ecologists on the site and their recommendation is that hunting will not have an adverse effect on the wildlife (populations) there,” he said.

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But Bob Hamilton, executive officer of the county Harbors, Beaches and Parks Commission, said, “There is concern that in the absence of any evidence of an overpopulation of animals, that there is no justification for encouraging or allowing hunting.”

The department’s original proposal was to allow hunting in the reserve. After several anti-hunting comments during a public hearing last month, however, Anderson revised the recommendation to allow hunters to kill only smaller animals such as rabbits and birds.

The recommendation now under consideration would also prohibit the use of pistols and most rifles, limiting hunters to bows and shotguns, which have a much shorter range.

Fish and Game commissioners will take public comment and could make a decision Oct. 7.

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