Hikers Respond to Sauk Mountain Shooting
Hikers continue to respond to the tragic accidental shooting of hiker Pamela Almli on the Sauk Mountain Trail last weekend. My post two days ago has generated a very thoughtful discussion of hunting, hiking and safety on trails. I've also received quite a few e-mails from our members and hikers about the tragedy. I encourage hikers to continue posting their thoughts to the blog or to e-mail me.
The general tenor of these comments has been sadness and shock. Shock, generally, that someone hiking a very busy trail on Forest Service land could have her life taken away from her so suddenly. Many hikers I've heard from (and some who are hunters) are questioning whether it's a good idea to allow hunters as young as 12 to hunt unaccompanied by an adult (as Washington state law currently allows). Certainly, legislation alone won't prevent a similar incident from happening, but it sounds reasonable to me to require hunters under a certain age to have a responsible, trained adult hunter with them. If you support changing existing state law on this, I would urge you to contact your state legislators.
The other question I've heard raised is whether it's appropriate to allow hunting on such a busy trail. I don't know the answer to this, but it does seem unwise to allow hunting on very heavily used trails. There are hunting restrictions on trails such as Mount Si and Tiger Mountain [*] --and it probably makes sense to selectively restrict hunting on some high-use trails on National Forest lands (Lake 22, Barclay Lake, Snow Lake and other I-90 corridor trails, and Rachel Lake are just a few that come to mind). [* EDITORIAL UPDATE: An official from DNR told me late this afternoon that while it is not legal to hunt on trails on Mount Si, it is in fact legal to hunt on Mount Si (!) as long as you step off the trail.]
In today's Seattle Times, Snohomish County sheriff's deputy Greg Rasar says that
"it was just a matter of time until somebody was accidentally shot." He noted, according to the article, that the state lacks "simple and plain" guidelines and regulations that apply to national forests and could make the trails and woods safer for all.
I do want to emphasize that hiking is a very safe activity, assuming that you plan ahead and take precautions such as always packing the ten essentials. According to Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, this accident is the only bystander fatality hunting accident in the state of Washington in at least 25 years, probably more. We shouldn't let this sad and tragic incident keep us from hiking the trails. I plan to hike this weekend with my kids.
For those who want to avoid trails where hunting is allowed (and remember that right now, it's only bear and cougar season, with a relatively few number of hunters out there) I would recommend trails in either National Parks or Washington State Parks, where hunting is prohibited. To learn more about the dates of hunting seasons, you can see this comprehensive list from WDFW. As you can see, though, it's complicated, and I'd say nearly impossible for a hiker who doesn't know much about hunting to sort it all out. I suppose it's best to assume hunters are out on a trail unless you know otherwise, and to wear bright clothing, to make a little noise on the trail, and let hunters know you're in the vicinity if you encounter them.