An ordinance allowing the use of firearms to get rid of pest animals on agricultural property in the Havre de Grace city limits was approved by the City Council this week.
The legislation passed unanimously during Monday’s council meeting, after the council approved amendments offered by Councilman James Ringsaker with some tweaks to the language, such as the types of firearms that can be used.
Members also supported a motion by Council President David Glenn to make the ordinance effective once signed by the mayor, rather than the typical 45-day period between when the council adopts an ordinance and when it takes effect, as local farmers are wrapping up their fall harvests and the ordinance is meant to protect harvested crops.
“I’m a big fan of farmers and farming operations, and the farming community,” Glenn said.
People cannot discharge firearms in the City of Havre de Grace under current regulations, unless they are on an approved shooting range or hunting waterfowl in the waters on the south side of Tydings Island, near where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay.
The ordinance approved Monday extends the ability to discharge firearms to people trying to get rid of nuisance birds or mammals on properties within the city boundaries used for farming or other agricultural business. The language includes land annexed by the city, land that had been used for agricultural purposes before the annexation and is still used for such purposes, according to the ordinance.
Ringsaker introduced a handful of amendments, all of which were approved unanimously by the council. The amendments included allowing shooters to use a shotgun or air rifle and expanding the types of prohibited ammunition to include slugs and buckshot.
The original ordinance restricted the shooter to a 20-gauge shotgun using birdshot ammunition.
The councilman noted that his research “does not support a differentiation between the 20 gauge or other common shotgun gauges.”
“This existing wording would also require the user to purchase another firearm if they don’t already possess a 20-gauge,” he said of the types of shotguns allowed.
Ringsaker also sought amendments to the paragraph regarding the prohibition on shooting within 150 yards of a dwelling, so it states that people cannot shoot within that 150-yard boundary “without permission of the owner or occupant,” plus the distance from schools is increased to 300 yards and the language specifies "any public or private” school.
The final amendment concerns prior police notifications, with the addendum that police should be notified “when possible.” Ringsaker said the ordinance covers pest animals such as groundhogs, with behavior patterns "which do not allow for a timely phone call to the police.”
He said he grew up on a farm in North Dakota and had to get rid of groundhogs and other creatures.
“They don’t wait for you to call [the police] and wait for a call back to get permission, before you do dispatch them,” Ringsaker said.
Councilwoman Casi Boyer asked Ringsaker about the effectiveness and ranges of shotguns and air rifles. He said a shotgun is “a very close-range weapon” with stopping power that “dissipates very quickly” because its ammunition is made up of small pellets that spread when fired. Rifle ammunition, which is solid and heavier, goes farther, Ringsaker said.
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Ringsaker added that air rifles that fire pellets, with a maximum range of 30 yards, are effective for dispatching rats or invasive birds.
Mayor William T. Martin thanked Ringsaker for the research he put into the amendments and the ordinance itself.
“I know you did your homework and put a lot of thought and time into it; I think it’s well written,” Martin said.
The ordinance was subject to a public hearing before the mayor and council Nov. 18. Peter Ianniello, whose family owns the Mount Felix winery at 2000 Level Road in the northwest part of the city, thanked city leaders for "promptly responding to the request that we had for this ordinance.”
The Ianniellos’ property is part of a 244.4-acre tract off of Route 155, between Bulle Rock Parkway and Canvasback Drive, annexed by the city in 2014. The tract includes the Green and Patrone properties.
Peter Ianniello said his family has “seasonal problems” with birds and deer in the vineyards, as well as issues with foxes and raccoons suspected of having rabies. He recalled an incident about five years ago when he and his daughters had to get rabies shots "after we cleaned one of our pets that got in a fight with a raccoon.”
“We’re a commercial farmer, so we’re simply seeking to preserve many of the rights that we had to protect crops, property, people and pets that we had when we were under the zoning of [Harford] county,” he said.