The SAFE Act hasn’t done New York gun owners any favors, but its draconian anti-gun policies just opened 5,300 acres of hunting lands that had previously been in shaky legal territory.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed an amendment to legislation that accompanied the SAFE Act that allows the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) to re-open 5,300 acres of hunting ground in the Adirondacks. The amendment took effect on October 17, just in time for deer hunting season in the Northern Zone.
“I have heard from a number of sportsmen and woman who wish to see hunting restored in that area and I am pleased that this amendment was signed by the Governor,” Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, who co-sponsored the bill, told New York Upstate.
The SAFE Act didn’t open new hunting grounds by itself. In fact, when it passed in 2013, it closed lands that had previously been enjoyed by SUNY ESF’s students and faculty, along with the general public.
But a little-known portion of the law prompted SUNY ESF’s administrators to take a closer look at the policies governing their use of the 2,500-acre Pack Forest Demonstration Area and the 2,800-acre Dubuar Memorial Forest—which in turn prompted lawmakers to correct a serious oversight in the law.
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SUNY ESF had for decades allowed hunting on the 5,300-acre portion of land owned by Syracuse University and held in trust for SUNY. A law had been passed prior to the SAFE Act that charged violators who criminally possessed a firearm on school and college/university properties with a misdemeanor. The original law exempted land “owned and maintained” by SUNY ESF, but that exemption didn’t technically apply to the portion of the land in question.
“The law that was originally used to try and craft the exemption for SUNY was flawed. It covered land ‘owned and maintained’ by SUNY ESF. That’s the key phrase, ‘owned and maintained.’ Our Adirondack property is owned by Syracuse University and held in trust for us. We don’t own it,” Robert Davis, former director of forest properties for SUNY ESF, told New York Upstate.
The error wasn’t corrected until the SAFE Act increased the charge for criminally possessing a firearm on school property from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony. Once SUNY ESF heard about the change, they decided to suspend all firearm hunting to avoid exposing their students, faculty, and neighbors to a felony charge.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story. The state legislature decided to fix the oversight exposed by the SAFE Act and amended the Penal Code to include the words “held in trust” in SUNY ESF’s exemption. The amendment will allow hunters to use firearms on the property without being exposed to misdemeanor or felony charges.
“The amendment will work to respect the time-honored tradition of hunting on the land, attract more people to the area and help keep wildlife populations in check,” Barclay told New York Upstate.
Rifle hunters began using the property when deer hunting season opened on October 26.