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Woodruff makes emotional plea for hunting restrictions

Police, hunters focusing on finding person who shot dog

After finding her dog shot to death two weeks ago Veronica Woodruff faced a room packed with hunters from the Pemberton Wildlife Association Tuesday and asked for Pemberton council’s support in extending some hunting boundaries.

Woodruff made the emotional plea after her purebred Samoyed, Silva, was shot while she was mountain biking with her husband, James, two weeks ago near Pemberton.

Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner made it clear to Woodruff that there was nothing the council could do except decide to support her; the area Woodruff wants made off-limits to hunters is in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

And while the Mackenzie Basin area is in the SLRD’s jurisdiction, any decision to change hunting boundaries must also include the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.

But Woodruff said she feels the area in question "could one day be part of Pemberton" as the municipality expands, and she wants as much support as possible.

"I’ll admit I am being fuelled by passion because of something that has happened to me that’s been incredibly devastating," said Woodruff. "And it’s just not the kind of thing that I would want to happen near a community where I intend to raise children."

Woodruff indicated that in the past two weeks she has talked to a lot of hunters about the incident and was somewhat sympathetic to their position.

"I do believe for the most part that the person who shot my dog was not a hunter and he’s giving hunters a bad name," she said.

Councillor Mark Blundell thanked Woodruff for her presentation but he also declared that he was a member of the Pemberton Wildlife Association, or PWA, and voiced a desire to see the area shared rather than shut down to any one group.

"That’s a resource to the community… all kinds of people from the community mingled in there," said Blundell. "Is there a way to work together so we could share the area?"

Blundell said that there could be other consequences, such as an explosion in the cougar population, if hunters were banned from the Mackenzie Basin area.

"I think it would be good to work together as citizens to see if we could find a way to traffic the resource."

Clarke Gatehouse, president of the PWA, said later that he felt Woodruff’s presentation was heart felt but he disagreed with what she was trying to do.

"Veronica Woodruff said at the council meeting that she is driven by emotion. Emotion is a poor reason to make a decision on land use," said Gatehouse. "Veronica has attempted to portray this as a safety issue, but the actual facts don’t support her argument. There has never been a documented case of a random stray bullet from a hunter ever hitting anyone in B.C."

"Veronica’s idea that a hunter only sees a small area through the scope is flawed," he said, "hunters take great efforts to positively identify their targets before aiming their rifles and shooting."

Gatehouse added that the PWA had a letter from First Nations that supported his organization’s position to oppose any further hunting restrictions.

"The First Nations in the Pemberton area have long used this area as a traditional hunting area. They have indicated to the PWA in writing that they support our position opposing the hunting restriction. Don Harris has been appointed by the bands to represent them.

"Hunting and other uses can coexist comfortably," he said, "we believe that education is the key to the land use in the Mackenzie Basin and One Mile lake areas. And we are prepared to work with all user groups to promote education and awareness of hunting in the Pemberton area."

While both parties appear to be making inroads with their arguments the focus is still firmly on the RCMP and the search for the shooter.

Police have a man from Burnaby in custody and are now running ballistic checks on the bullet that killed Silva to see if it matches with any of the weapons found in the man’s car.

"The RCMP will not take a position in terms of endorsing any plan until such time as we have completed our police investigation," said Staff Sgt. Norm McPhail. "Because we don’t have specific evidence to say that a hunter has caused the death of that dog.

"We do have some information that indicates that it may be a hunter that caused the death because of the circumstances, i.e. there were hunters in the area, a gun shot was heard, witnesses saw what they believed were hunters leaving the area in a vehicle, so we’re investigating that.

"We have arrested a hunter in illegal possession of firearms and drugs out of Burnaby. We will do what we can to tie those cases together if they can be tied by evidence."

McPhail said the RCMP was receiving tips daily but as yet nothing concrete had surfaced.

"We have seized the bullet that was related to the dog’s death and we are doing another investigation," he said. "We do want to get to bottom of this because it’s very high profile in terms of community concern and a huge issue with regards to the overuse of Crown land."

McPhail concluded that regardless of the results of the police investigation and the eventual Crown counsel recommendations, the community, regional district and the province needed to work together to make the area safe.

Max Cleeveley, from the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, said municipalities effectively had the power to ban hunting if the area in question was inside municipal boundaries. But in Pemberton’s case, Cleeveley said, the Wildlife Act might have to be amended and that would be a provincial issue.