Recreational Shooting on National Forests- Bad Actors and the Urbanizing Forest

Evidence of illegal recreational shooting in closed areas of the Pike National Forest, along Gold Camp Road. (thanks to the Colorado Springs Gazette).

Since I’ve been exploring the topic of personal-use recreational access to National Forests, I’ve thought about how different the discussion is compared to the others multiple uses. There are environmental issues, public safety issues and what we might call “annoying to neighbors” issues.  These issues, for the most part, don’t seem to attract the attention of the major environmental groups and tend to be ultimately local in solution. Thanks to all the public servants out there who deal with these issues day in and day out!  If you live near a National Forest, you probably see these kinds of issues in your local paper.

Some issues are a function of the Forests getting more heavily used, crowded and with more neighbors living cheek by jowl with the Forest.  We might call it the “urbanizing forest transition”, or I’m open to other expressions. But they are also related to people not following the rules that exist to protect the environment and public safety.

Recreational shooting has been an issue on the Front Range of Colorado for some time.. I remember being in meetings dealing with it when I was still working.  Here’s a recent article in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Bullet holes in the trees dotting the top of the ridge reveal shooters haven’t been following another rule requiring an earthen backstop. With Colorado 67 circling beyond the trees and houses nearby, the potential for loss of life is of paramount concern, he said.

“You have no idea where that bullet is going to land,” Martinez said.

This summer added yet another threat: fires.

In a three-month span, shooting ignited eight fires in the area, leading to renewed calls to close Turkey Track to recreational shooting.

Trash is another mounting concern. Shooters aren’t picking up their used shell casings or targets.

The Forest Service said rangers routinely pick up trash on patrols, but organized efforts twice a year have amassed two to three large dumpsters worth of garbage from each shooting location across the district.

“There’s no reason it has to look that way,” Martinez said.

While not expressly advocating to close the area, Martinez said conversations are needed about how to keep the area safe for the people who use it and the residents nearby.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Martinez said. “What it (recreational use) will end up looking like, I don’t know, but we’re going to need to have some solutions to all of this.”

For recreational shooting to continue, the Forest Service encourages people to follow its golden rule: “Keep it safe. Keep it clean. Keep it legal.”


Is this an issue on the Forests near you?

10 thoughts on “Recreational Shooting on National Forests- Bad Actors and the Urbanizing Forest”

  1. It is a problem on the Mt. Hood National Forest. My sons and I saw this tree when we went target shooting in November. We shot paper targets, picked up out casings and other trash, plus hauled away a couple of boxes full of trash that others had left.

    Gun-shot tree, Mt. Hood NF, Nov. 2017

    The “Dump Stoppers” program in my county routinely hauls truckloads of junk from USFS and private lands.

      • Great photo, Steve! Maybe it was too big? I also like your Dump Stoppers program.. we have that problem on private land in our county, at least on private rural land.

    • I believe the Mt Hood also has volunteers out educating shooters in a positive way – they hand out paper targets and will exchange them for even nicer targets if you turn in a certain amount of spent shells. They also hand out trash bags. And since there was a lot of concern from employees about shooting in the woods while they were out working, I think the forest also puts up “no shooting/people at work” signs in areas where employees or contractors are working. I think it really is a model program for others to take a look at. Other places I have worked have had volunteers help pick up designated gun ranges and keep them maintained. Often it was a local business that sold guns/ammunition so they could have a lot of interaction with shooters in the store about woods etiquette as well.

      • The Mt Hood also has designated no-shooting zones. The one near my home encompasses an area with heavy recreation. When my boys and I went shooting last November, we used Google Maps to make sure that we were outside of the zone — we were, barely.

  2. Shooting, or “plinking” is one of the most popular uses of National Forests in LA area National Forests. (I saw USFS signs using “plinking” in their message, directing people to shoot in designated safe areas.) I do notice that some people like to bring stuff out there, to shoot at. All sorts of stuff. I saw both a golf ball and a hockey puck used as a target. Appliances. Stuff, that is left out there after the shooters leave.

  3. here’s a link to Som’s comment that was posted with the photo.

    “Along with firewood gathering, hunting, camping, and otherwise recreating, target shooting and plinking are a traditional use of public lands and the lands have been accommodating this use since there have been people with firearms in North America. When towns were small and people didn’t live “in the country” unless they’d a reason to, plinking and target shooting were just one more activity no one much cared about. People would find an old sandbank with road access and have at it. Things have changed.

    What were formerly small towns now include thousands of commuters, small western cities are now millions of people, one town blending into another. Along with all that growth there has been a growth in shooting recreationists. Where target shooting used to be an activity to hone one’s skills for hunting, it is now an end unto itself.

    Private shooting ranges are prohibitively expensive. Those that allow in the public that is, many of the private ranges are closed to the public. In greater northern Denver there is one public range, an hour and a half north of Denver. Other parts of Colorado have county or state ranges, but where they are needed most, where most of the recreational shooters live, there is only that one recently opened range.

    Counties, the Forest Service, and private landowners, of the northern front range as it’s known have formed an anti public land shooting coalition called Sport Shooting Partners. Kind of a play on the pejorative of “sport hunting” and the idea that we are all in this together even though the shooting public has been left out.
    Of course no shooting or firearm advocacy groups are partners.

    The Colorado Division of Wildlife is also a partner as they have an interest in accessible, safe, places for the general public to hone skills necessary for hunting.

    I’ve been to their meetings, mostly group sessions of swapping tales of how horrid and dangerous shooters are. They are also big on maps. Lots of alternatives that all eliminate recreational shooting along the front range of colorado.

    They’ve been at it for quite a while, maybe 4 years at a guess. Nothing to be done. No one wants a public range in the forests close to them, and Boulder, the county with the most public lands conflicts is allergic to firearms to the point of breaking out in hives. To decrease the use of public lands “dispersed shooting” they’d probably need to push up berms and a dirt backstop, maybe in a few different locations, including county land. The wish of most anti gun folks is to first eliminate all recreational shooting, then maybe think about a public range, or maybe not.

    Some compromising has to occur, or nothing will get done in the next 3 years. Frankly I don’t see it happening.”

    • Som.. that was pretty much what I remember from 2005-12 when I was working in the Region. I also remember field trips to trashed out areas. I think I remember the RF trying to get a coalition of counties, State and Feds to work together toward a solution involving some kind of public range but obviously that was yet another Public Lands Sisyphean Task.

      I also used to work with a guy in DC who coordinated with the national Shooting Sports Roundtable but I don’t remember what they came up with.

      But I was looking around on related topics and found this..about the BLM and FS from the Public Lands Foundation:

      “Federal land management plans, for the most part, have not historically
      addressed recreational shooting in ways similar to other recreational activities. There
      may be a variety of reasons for this. They include:
      ­– little or no proactive participation in planning processes by affected
      individuals and organizations;
      ­— limited understanding of recreational shooting activities by agency staff
      and/or managers;
      ­ —reluctance on the part of agencies to deal with the complexities of
      environmental and liability issues associated with recreational shooting;
      ­— insufficient resources to build and manage recreational shooting sites and
      ranges; and, other reasons.”

      I wonder if there is an example of a forest, district or region that has successfully dealt with this issue?

  4. “Rural values” are in the full effect on the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana.

    Bullet-riddled trees in Skalkaho campground dying

    HAMILTON, Mont. – Centuries-old Douglas fir trees in the Skalkaho area south east of Hamilton are dying from years of target practice.

    The Bitterroot National Forest is asking the public to report the illegal shooting of trees, plus off-road ATV use and the dumping of trash. (SOURCE)

  5. Here’s an ongoing example near you:

    “Colorado Parks and Wildlife will hold a meeting at 6-8 p.m. Monday at the U.S. Forest Service Office in Fort Collins, 2150 Centre Ave., Building E, to discuss four alternatives for management of recreational sport shooting on National Forest System lands in Larimer, Boulder, Gilpin, Clear Creek and Grand counties.”

    “The Northern Front Range Recreational Sport Shooting Management Partnership is working with the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests on a Forest Plan Amendment to address management of recreational sport shooting, according to a news release.”

    The link takes you to the “Forest Service Recreational Sport Shooting Management Project” page.


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