Hiker Killed by Hunter on Sauk Mountain
Terribly tragic news this past weekend.
A 54-year-old hiker was accidentally shot and killed by 14-year-old hunter on the Sauk Mountain Trail on Saturday. According to media reports, including this AP story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the hiker was Pamela Almli, a resident of Oso, a small town near Arlington. Almli, who was on a day hike up the popular trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, had bent down to put something into her pack when she was mistaken for a bear by the young shooter. She was shot, fell down a steep slope, and died on the scene. The fatal shooting occurred at about 10:30 a.m. about a quarter of a mile from the Sauk Mountain trailhead.The Skagit County Sheriff's Office and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are investigating the incident.
WTA offers its deepest condolences to the friends and family of the vicitm.
One disturbing detail about this tragic incident is that the hunter, who was from the town of Concrete, was accompanied only by a 16-year-old hunter. No adult was present. According to Bill Hebner, WDFW enforcement captain for Region 4, which covers King County and most of the western Cascades, this is perfectly legal. Hebner told me that the two hunters had the appropriate licenses and tags, and legal firearms. Hunting season for bear opened that day, August 2. "Obviously, though," Hebner qualified, "it's not legal to shoot someone."
Hunting is legal just about anywhere in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, according to Renee Bodine, public information officer for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie. But, Bodine said, "according to the code of federal regulations, it's not legal to fire across roads or trails [on the forest] or 150 yards from campgrounds. Ultimately, it's the responsibility of the hunter to stay away from and not endanger others. Hunters are responsible for what they shoot at."
Hikers should take care during hunting season to wear bright clothing, talk loudly, and let hunters know when you're in the vicinity. I've blogged on this in the past here, and Andy Walgamott, editor of Fishing and Hunting News, wrote about safety tips for hikers in the October 2007 issue of Washington Trails magazine.
One other tip is knowing when hunting season is on.
The trouble is, not many hikers even knew that bear and cougar season opened Aug. 2.
Including me. Coincidentally, I was out hiking the Mount Higgins Trail off the Mountain Loop Highway this weekend. While I was biking up the road to the trailhead, I encountered a man who had just stepped out of the woods. I said hello, and after chatting with him, learned he'd just shot a bear. I thought to myself, "that's strange, it's not hunting season..." But in fact, it was.
Certainly, it's up to hikers and the hiking community to educate themselves about when hiking season is open, and to take precautions. You can read a detailed pamphlet here about Washington state hunting seasons and regulations.
But this terrible incident also raises a troubling issue: why is it completely legal in the state of Washington for a 14-year-old to be out hunting without an adult? And why is it presumably legal to hunt on or near this trail, which sees a lot of hiker use?
Sauk Mountain is one of the more popular trails in the area. WTA often recommends this hike as a great family hiking destination. Is it appropriate that hunters should be shooting on or near this trail at all? It's an issue that will take time to resolve.
I chatted about this issue today with Snohomish County Sheriff Deputy Greg Rasar. Deputy Rasar and I had talked at length about a year ago on the issue of shooting and public safety in National Forests for an article in last year's magazine. Rasar had e-mailed me this weekend to let me know about the incident on Sauk Mountain, and about his previous concerns that the proliferation of guns on the forest could lead to an incident like the one that transpired this past weekend. "With recent flood damage," Rasar told me today, "there are more and more people trying to share an increasingly smaller area. We have something like 3.5 million people visiting the forest with reasonably easy access. With that amount of people, I don't think there's a place for recreational shooting."
Rasar is concerned that with the proliferation of guns on the forest, safety will continue to be an issue. Though these hunters were generally acting in a legal manner, Rasar finds that many people who possess guns he meets on his patrols either "don't know the regulations or don't care to find them out."
As for the law that permits those 12 and older to hunt unaccompanied by adult, Hebner of WDFW says his agency doesn't even agree with those regulations, which were passed by the state legislature in the mid-1990s. "As an agency," Hebner said, "we strongly support requirements of a minimum age and the presence of an experienced adult." He noted the agency strongly suggests in its hunter safety education programs that young hunters be accompanied by an adult, and that his agency will in future urge the legislature to change the law.
WTA has taken no formal stand on this issue, but we urge our members to offer their thoughts by posting comments to this blog, contacting us by e-mail, or by calling us at (206) 625-1367.
It's clear that something must change. This is a tragedy for all: for the hiker and her family, for the young hunter, and for all of us who enjoy the mountains--whether we're hikers, hunters or both.