Saturday, March 03, 2007

USFS Urban Front Country Project - Environmental Assessment

I just returned from a public comment period regarding campfires, camping, and recreational shooting in the National Forests (NF) in the Boulder District. Most of the time was spent focused on shooting. There were probably 50 people there and after a brief and generally uninformative introduction we were split into smaller groups to discuss solutions to these “problems” facing the NF on the Front Range. My group was split evenly between people who vocally opposed shooting and vocally supported it. This was unintentional, because groups seemed to be assigned at random.

The people in charge have decided that recreational shooting is a problem and therefore shooters have a problem.


The Forest Service folks didn’t seem concerned that they have no data to support the notion that these are actually areas of concern, but that is beside the point. The people in charge have decided that recreational shooting is a problem and therefore shooters have a problem. While the lack of data may prove troublesome if the Forest Service proposes new regulations (see below), for now it seems the best course for shooters is to offer information that helps put the “problem” in perspective for non-shooters.

This conclusion is informed in part by my experience today. The meeting was productive and positive in that it gave (at least in the group I was in) shooters and local residents opposed to shooting a chance to sit down and discuss the issue. At least two people who live near Allenspark proposed banning shooting in the NF. Their desire for a ban, or a 5-mile no-shooting radius around any residential area, or even a professionally-managed range seemed motivated by a genuine lack of knowledge about shooting. By the end of the time even these folks seemed open to the idea that shooters were genuinely courteous and nice people that needn’t be excluded from or specially regulated in the NF.

If we in the shooting community can take opportunities like this to reach out to the folks that live around the areas where we shoot we can do a lot to ensure access to the NF for shooters by creating valuable allies in the non-shooting community. Perhaps the next Colorado AR-15 shoot at the North site should be advertised in Lyons and Allenspark. Understanding, more than anything else, will help to ensure that we can shoot in the NF for a long time to come.

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Incidentally, a ban would almost certainly fail under a legal challenge because the Forest Service must, by law, accommodate multiple uses that are not incompatible. While some regulation of shooting might be justified, e.g., distance from structures, it would be impossible to show that recreational shooing is incompatible with other uses to such an extent that it must be banned. Also, any regulations promulgated by Forest Service must be reasonable and supported by a record. The lack of any data supporting a shooting ban (or even changes in the shooting regs) would pose a major problem in court.

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