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Officials weigh if legal hunting in Yorkville is dangerous pursuit

Yorkville residents thlive near Autumn Creek Elementary School are concerned about hunters trying shoot geese fields near school neighborhoods. Photaken

Yorkville residents that live near Autumn Creek Elementary School are concerned about hunters trying to shoot geese in fields near the school and neighborhoods. Photo taken Friday, February 8, 2013. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 11, 2013 6:45AM

YORKVILLE — The rights of a local hunter here and the desires of nearby subdivision residents are clashing in a manner that could end up in a courtroom.

Residents of the Autumn Creek subdivision during the past several months have lodged numerous complaints with City Hall about hunting they say is going on almost in their backyards — and too close to the Autumn Creek Elementary School.

But local officials, citing state law, have said the hunting — which is being done by a local farmer, his family and friends — is legal and the city can do nothing to regulate it.

The latest entry into the discussion has come from Springfield, where officials have reversed what local authorities said and given Yorkville the ability to enforce its ordinance against discharging firearms within city limits.

It leaves the Yorkville Police Department, and Chief Richard Hart, stuck firmly in the middle to decide if it should enforce its city ordinance against discharging firearms within city limits, or follow what appears to be state law and leave regulation of hunting to the only authority mentioned in state statutes — the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve looked at the law, we spoke to the landowner,” Hart said. “The DNR says we cannot regulate hunting, but we can regulate the discharge of firearms within city limits.”

The issue comes up in the late fall, October or November, whenever goose season starts each year. It lasts through January, when the season normally ends.

A farmer with property along Veterans Parkway that backs up to Autumn Creek and the Yorkville Post Office hunts goose. He either hunts himself or allows family and friends to do so on his property.

The property is mostly farmland but does have a man-made retention area that is like a lake. The geese are attracted to the water and the food left behind in the fields after harvest.

Hart said that’s when people living in Autumn Creek begin to lodge complaints. They are concerned the shooting is going on is too close to the residents and to Autumn Creek Elementary School, at Autumn Creek Boulevard and Prairie Grass Lane.

The complaints go to the police, but also to aldermen. That’s why the City Council’s Public Safety Committee got involved looking at ways to possibly regulate the hunting.

But in researching the law, local DNR officials and the Kendall County State’s Attorney’s Office told Yorkville officials that only the DNR could regulate hunting. The hunting is legal because it is done far enough away from the school and residents.

“It’s never been any threat to the school, or any child,” Hart said.

He said the hunters use bird shot, which does not travel very far. That makes the 150- to 200-yard distance from the school plenty of room, Hart said. The law says a hunter would need permission from a neighboring landowner if a structure — in this case, the school — were less than 100 feet from the hunting area.

The entire area is within the city limits of Yorkville, annexed when Autumn Creek was annexed more than 10 years ago.

Yorkville has had its own ordinance since the 1970s prohibiting anyone from discharging a firearm within city limits, unless the shooter has permission from the chief of police, or is a policeman in the performance of his duties.

But, again, officials with the DNR told city officials that their regulation of hunting supersedes any local ordinance.

Aldermen were discussing the possibility of a resolution to legislators seeking a change in state law to allow local ordinance to prevail, at least within city limits.

Then, the DNR in Springfield changed its mind.

Attorneys for the DNR in the state office sent an opinion to Yorkville saying they could enforce their local ordinance against discharging a firearm, superseding DNR’s hunting rules.

“They reversed themselves,” Hart said. “The local DNR office was shocked.”

So Yorkville Police, armed with its opinion from Springfield, could cite the farmer for discharging a gun on his property. At that point, Hart said, “I imagine (the law) will be challenged.”

The point is moot at the moment, because the goose-hunting season is over. But the issue has not been decided.

“I imagine in the fall it will all start up again,” Hart said.

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