Forest Service considering ban on recreational shooting

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Plan would make public lands in wildland-urban interface off limits

By Beth Potter

U.S. Forest Service officials are considering closing all public land to recreational shooting in a zone called the “wildland-urban interface.”

The 400,000-acre wildfire zone — mostly along Colorado's Front Range and Interstate 70 — is an area where homes and other manmade improvements are close to natural terrain and flammable vegetation, according to information on a Colorado State University website.

Most of it also is a dangerous area for recreational shooting, Tom Ford, a planning and design staffer for the Forest Service, said Friday at a recreational-shooting plan group meeting in Boulder. The ad-hoc group includes officials from counties along the Front Range and representatives of the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, among others.

Ford wants to get approval from the group to put the closure proposal out to public comment through a National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA process. The zone has 2½ to 16 homes per acre, he said, and originally was mapped out to manage developed areas for wildfire risk. It includes much of the land in Clear Creek County and Jefferson County.

Forest Service workers currently manage land in the zone as “open” to recreational shooting unless they specifically close a problem area, Ford said. But that strategy seems to not be working very well, he said. The multi-county group has been meeting for several months to come up with a plan to address how to manage recreational shooting, since there are more conflicts between homeowners and recreational shooters than there once were, he said.

“It’s not part of public land heritage to restrict use,” Ford said. “But look at this (wildland-urban interface zone) map, and there are houses all over. How do you balance it?”

About 50 to 75 percent of the land in question is close enough to homes or roads that shooting should not be going on there anyway, Ford said. Specifically, U.S. Forest Service rules say it’s illegal to shoot in an “unsafe area” near homes or people, he said.

The proposal sounds like a good “starting point,” but the amount of public land in question is “a little staggering,” said Tim Mauck, Clear Creek County commissioner. Mauck pointed out that he has proposed three managed shooting ranges within Clear Creek's boundaries.

“I worry about how we’re balancing everything,” Mauck said.

Recreational shooters in the region are going to have similar concerns, said Steve Yamashita, acting director of the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife.

“When you close off 400,000 acres and open some 4-acre parcels (for proposed new Forest Service-managed shooting ranges), there’s no comparison,” Yamashita said.

“We’re all working together on this, but when the recreational shooting public sees it, they’re going to get outraged very quickly.”

Ford said shooting is not the only issue Forest Service workers are contending with. 

“It’s very hard to manage an urban forest,” Ford said.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service plans to work with Clear Creek officials to open a managed shooting range at a site known as the Devil’s Nose area, about 2 miles south of Echo Lake Lodge near the base of Mount Evans, Ford said.

In Clear Creek County, complaint areas in recent years have included the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout and Barbour Fork Trailhead. The Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout is above Squaw Pass near Colorado 103; Barbour Fork Trailhead is about 3 miles south of Idaho Springs on Soda Creek Road.