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SUNY ESF restricts hunting on Ranger School campus

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WANAKENA — Passage of the NY SAFE Act has indirectly led to the banning of hunting with firearms this year on the campus of the Ranger School, which includes the 2,800-acre James F. Dubuar Forest.

The SAFE Act increases the penalty for the possession of a firearm on school property from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony.

“That prompted a closer reading of the law,” said Robert S. Davis, director of forest products at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the parent educational institution of the Ranger School.

SUNY ESF thought it had an exemption under the state Penal Law that allowed firearms on land it owned and maintained, but legal counsel advised otherwise.

“We realized our earlier interpretation was incorrect,” Mr. Davis said.

The land has to be both owned and maintained by SUNY ESF for the exemption — passed long ago with the school in mind — to apply. But the Ranger School campus and the surrounding forest is held in trust for SUNY ESF by Syracuse University, of which SUNY ESF used to be a part, Mr. Davis said.

College leaders did not want to have students or anyone else face a felony charge while hunting on its grounds, so they have banned the practice — at least with firearms — for this year.

“We felt that was too great a risk,” Mr. Davis said. “We’re not trying to ban hunting. Hunters actually help us control the deer population. We’re happy to have you so long as you’re not using a firearm.”

The change affects the school’s northern properties, including the Dubuar Forest and the 2,400-acre Pack Forest in Warrensburg, both of which have traditionally allowed hunting with firearms.

The ban will require the posting of thousands of signs, which are being made.

“I’m trying to get the signs up as quickly as possible,” Mr. Davis said.

The school hopes to have legislation enacted by next year that will allow the return of hunting with firearms, he said.

The availability of hunting is part of what attracts some students to the Ranger School, said Director Michael R. Bridgen, who has already told students of the decision.

“We usually have a good percentage of students who like to hunt,” he said. “They’ve been understanding. There’s quite a bit of interest in archery now. They’re still trying to hunt.”

In a normal year, when firearms are allowed, the school has safeguarded weapons in a locker.

“We have good control,” Mr. Bridgen said. “Our weapons policy in the past has been very successful.”

Mr. Bridgen said he sees occasional people in the Dubuar Forest, some of them who have hunted the woods for years.

“We’re trying to get the word out as best we can,” he said. “We don’t have any way of policing it.”

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