LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A man said he found ducks on Lake Parker while scouting for waterfowl to hunt.
The decision to hunt those ducks has sparked outrage in the neighborhood.
“It literally jolted me out of bed and it sounded like a war zone, shot after shot after shot after shot. It just continued on and on,” said Judy Kahler-Jalbert, who lives along Lake Parker.
“It just pains me to think that these hunters are out here shooting their ducks in their nesting place, where they’re sleeping, in their safe zone,” said Janet Smith, who also lives along the lake.
The ducks gather along the shoreline on the southern end of Lake Parker, a 3.5-square mile lake within Lakeland city limits.
C.R. West, whose family has lived along Lake Parker since the 1940s, started feeding the ducks twice a day over the last year.
“We are very familiar with this whole neighborhood and the background. I don’t think these hunters know a thing about it,” he said.
He said he has never heard gunshots in the neighborhood.
That changed in January.
“These fellas, they knew they had a captive crowd of victims out here,” he said.
Before duck hunting season ended at the end of January, hunters shot and killed ducks on Lake Parker on three occasions.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, waterfowl hunting is permitted on bodies of water with public access, including Lake Parker. Since restricted hunting areas began in 1997, four have been established, according to an FWC spokesperson.
“The local governmental body that has jurisdiction over the area of interest must make their request for a restricted hunting area in writing,” an FWC spokesperson wrote in a statement.
FWC staff then evaluates the area to weigh the safety impacts with a “reasonable and lawful hunting opportunity.”
To begin that process, the neighbors along Lake Parker took their concerns to city officials in writing and in person.
Kahler-Jalbert, who showed News Channel 8 a threat she received for taking the stance, weighed in on the issue at Monday’s city commission meeting.
“I believe it’s a matter of safety,” she said.
But hunters and hunting advocates had a very different idea about whether hunting should be restricted at all.
“Waters of the state of Florida are public. They are a public trust resource. Similarly, wildlife in the state of Florida is a public trust resource,” said Travis Thompson, a Polk County resident and hunter.
Thompson warned that members from hunting rights organizations across the nation were monitoring the meeting.
“[The hunters] were not cited. They didn’t do anything illegal. They weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said.
Andrew Spicer was the one who found the ducks on Lake Parker. He said he has fished and hunted on Lake Parker and other Polk County lakes his whole life.
“I duck hunt to feed my family and it is a great sport to spend time with friends and everything,” he said.
Spicer accused people in the area of “hunter harassment,” by shouting and using a bullhorn to get them to leave.
Peter Arcuri, of Tampa, said he participated in the duck hunting on Lake Parker one time in January.
“We always make sure we’re shooting in a safe direction. We never will shoot over a road or someone’s private property because that would be illegal and unsafe,” he said.
Arcuri pointed out rural areas to hunt are dwindling.
“The development is rampant. It would be very nice to say – why don’t you hunt in a rural area? Well, the rural areas we have are disappearing. Lakes that I once hunted that used to not have homes around them, do have homes around them now,” said Arcuri.
The city attorney said a local ordinance that prohibits waterfowl hunting within city limits is not enforceable due to state statutes.
City commissioners agreed to schedule a public workshop with FWC to learn more about the issue and whether any hunting restrictions should be put in place.
“We want hunters to be able to hunt without restriction but we also don’t, in the quality of life category, don’t want residents to be threatened for their safety,” said Mayor Bill Mutz.