Forest Service: Closing areas to shooting is sound recreational management

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By Beth Potter

A plan to close a 400,000-acre zone of land in the foothills to recreational shooting would help the U.S. Forest Service manage the sport the way it does other recreation on public lands, according to an official.

U.S. Forest Service officials are suggesting closing public lands to shooting in an area known as the “wildland-urban interface,” which is mostly near homes in the foothills of the Front Range. In the zone, the number of homes can range from 2.5 to 16 per square mile, said Tom Ford, a planning and design staffer for the U.S. Forest Service. A wildland-urban interface map of the region was created in 2008.

If the Forest Service plan goes forward, residents would have an extended period of time to comment on it before it could receive approval, Ford said. The plan may be formally announced in July.

At the same time, U.S. Forest Service officials plan to work with county officials in the region to create more designated shooting range areas. Officials have met numerous times as an ad-hoc group to work on the project.

Recreational shooting currently is allowed on public lands, Ford said.

“We have to balance it out,” Ford said. “All of our recreational activities have some effect on the landscape, and shooting is no different.” 

Forest Service officials created a management plan for horseback riding, for example, Ford said. Horseback riding is not allowed on some Forest Service hiking trails because of the potential conflict between the two uses, Ford said. The Forest Service also manages camping on public land — it’s not allowed in some areas, he said.

Kathy Hinkle, a spokeswoman for the Clear Creek County Sportsmen Club in Idaho Springs, said it seems like a good idea for safety to set aside more land for designated ranges for recreational shooters. The club has its own shooting range just west of Idaho Springs.  

Hinkle said she was not aware of the specifics of the new Forest Service plan. 

“Not knowing how large the area is, it’s difficult to say anything,” Hinkle said of the proposed Forest Service land closure. “(But) as someone who likes to do this kind of activity, I think the more public areas we have, the better.” 

In general, it’s illegal to shoot on about 50 to 75 percent of the land proposed for closure, anyway, since it is land that's close to homes, roads, designated camping spots and other related areas, Ford said.

Hinkle said she believes most gun owners want to do the right thing, just as she believes skiers and other mountain recreationalists want to do the right thing. As a hunter education instructor, Hinkle said, she takes it upon herself to talk to gun owners she sees doing things inappropriately.

“The biggest majority — 98 percent — obey the rules, and then there are those few who are determined that they’ll break the rules,” Hinkle said. “There’s no difference in our (sport) from skiing or any other sport.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials recognize there are issues with recreational shooting in certain areas, said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman. But the state officials prefer that the Forest Service come up with alternative areas where they could redirect shooters before discussing such a large-scale closure, Churchill said.

“We want to work with everybody to make sure this works out best for all recreationists,” Churchill said.