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Officials scramble in wake of Needham hunting incident

November 29, 2011

By Dan Adams, Articles.Boston.com

Town officials scrambled last week to determine who owned land near the Ridge Hill Reservation where a resident reported her daughter encountered a hunter in a tree platform just a short walk from her backyard.

Now, the town may consider a ban on bow hunting after discovering that the incident occurred on conservation land where residents frequently walk.

Clara Germani, whose Pine Street property abuts the reservation, said her 14-year-old daughter was walking their dog down a path behind their home last month when she was startled by a man wearing camouflage and a black ski mask sitting in a tree. While she wasn’t sure the man was armed, Germani’s daughter said he claimed he was hunting deer for a Lyme disease study being conducted by the state. Town and state officials were unaware of any such program.

Needham Police removed the platform, described by Germani as a chair attached to a branch with fabric straps that had metal footholds leading up to it. Police Chief Philip Droney said officers were unable to locate the man, but are now investigating the incident with the help of state Environmental Police.

Officials quickly realized it was unclear who owned the land and what hunting rules applied there. They hurried to organize a series of calls and meetings with town engineers, with police — who thought the land was owned by the Army of Corps of Engineers — and with members of the Conservation Commission, one of whom was adamant that the area was conservation land owned by the town.

Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick initially said the area where the platform was discovered was federally owned Army Corps land, where hunting would be allowed. However, after reviewing town maps and further meetings with officials, Fitzpatrick said last week that the land in question was almost certainly town conservation land, where hunting is prohibited.

The uncertainty surrounding the area, where town, federal and private property intersect, was unsettling to residents like Germani.

’’I didn’t know people could hunt in a suburban area like this,’’ Germani said.

Germani said she is not trying to end hunting, but wants residents to be safe.

’’I just hope that people are not as ignorant as I was about this, and that they protect themselves and their children from accidental crossfire.’’

Shirley Converse, who has lived on Pine Street for 50 years, says hunting in the area is nothing new, but it still makes her uncomfortable.

’’If those bullets go astray they could do a tremendous amount of damage,’’ Converse said. ’’I think it’s dangerous for kids and animals in the neighborhood. ... It’s just not right. They should do it way off in the woods somewhere.’’

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