Shooting closures proposed for area forests

John Scarffe, Gilpin County. Representatives of the Northern Front Range Recreational Sport Shooting Management Partnership presented four proposals for closing recreational shooting in Peak to Peak area forest lands at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, November 6, at the Gilpin County Community Center. Partnership Project Coordinator Garry Sanfacon introduced the partnership to about 60 people.

 

“The Partnership has been meeting for almost five years to develop solutions to this challenging issue,” Sanfacon said. He pointed out that all three Gilpin County Commissioners, Sheriff Bruce Hartman. Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark, Sara Beck, lead Forest Service planner on the project, and Gabi Boerkircher, Boulder County communications specialist, were in attendance at the meeting.

 

The format for the meeting would be brief comments for context and background, and then attendees could peruse the maps, which contain subtle differences, and fill out a comment card. “No hard deadline has been established for comments, but before the end of the month would be most useful,” Sanfacon said.

 

This proposal only deals with Forest Service lands, not private land or other land, and has no impact to hunting. The main goal at the meeting was to share the maps showing alternative management strategies and ask for feedback from the public before the environmental analysis is finalized.

 

Four alternatives were developed collaboratively using Forest Service staff, expertise from the Partnership, and public input during the 2015 scoping period. Proposed closures for recreational shooting would not apply to lawful hunting activities on National Forest System lands. In addition, proposed closures would likely not take effect until developed shooting ranges were constructed in the vicinity.

 

The alternatives were developed using four guiding factors to determine what lands were suitable or not suitable: (1) distance from residences, structures or high recreation use areas; (2) density of residences; (3) enforceability; and (4) current shooting use in the area, associated conflicts. In general, a half-mile buffer was used around areas proposed as unsuitable.

 

Focused closures consist only of areas unsuitable for dispersed shooting based on current conflicts and existing emergency closures. In general, a quarter-mile buffer was used around areas proposed as unsuitable.

 

Local factors considered included residential housing density, high use recreation areas on Forest Service and county lands and existing conflicts between sport shooting and other uses on Forest Service and county lands. This alternative relied on the professional judgement of the Partnership members to identify areas as suitable or not suitable and considered enforceability of shooting closures.

 

The fourth alternative allows no dispersed shooting anywhere on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests.

 

Recreational sport shooting (RSS) is a longstanding and legitimate use of National Forest System lands, according to Partnership background information. “In recent years Colorado’s population has been increasing annually by more than 100,000 with 80 percent of this growth occurring along the Front Range.”

 

“As population has increased, so have the number of people who live near and use the National Forests,” according to background. “The mixing of RSS activities on National Forest System lands in close proximity to residences and other high use public areas is causing safety concerns.”

 

“Since 2013, the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland have been working with partners including Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, and Larimer counties, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to develop possible management strategies for this activity on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests.

 

“This includes not only identifying areas of the Forests that may or may not be suitable for recreational sport shooting, but also identifying locations that would be conducive to building developed shooting ranges open to the public on public lands.”

 

Sanfacon said that plans involve a three-pronged approach: amending the forest plan because the Forest Service didn’t know how to arrange land around shooting; each county will be looking at designating a shooting range in the county; an education strategy with brochures for hunters and residents and a great video to help people shoot on Forest Service land.

 

Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark explained that the Forest Service has been in the planning process, because the 1997 plan contained nothing about where it’s safe to shoot. It wasn’t a conflict at the time.

 

“It’s taken a while but this is a really big issue now in the area’s four counties, so they got a partnership going in 2013. When they started the planning process, they had each of the counties sign on,” Clark said.

 

It was an opportunity for counties to collect information from their constituents about the concept and any other solutions. Clark explained the difference between dispersed and designated shooting. Dispersed is going out and finding a field and using approved targets.

 

Designated are developed shooting areas with lanes and backstops. Part of the planning process is where is it appropriate to have dispersed and not.

 

“People are interested in the opportunity to shoot,” Clark said. “Where can we provide dispersed shooting if we’re going to close a lot of the areas?”

 

Forest Service Planner Sara Beck said that when the Forest Service first put out Alternative one in 2015, lots of people submitted comments. The Partnership considered comments and developed alternatives that would address different criteria.

 

Sheriff Hartman said, “The Forest Service and their land. I have to throw a flag. It’s not their land. It’s our land.”

 

Beck cautioned that you can shoot on your private property, but if you step on Forest Service land, you have to be 150 feet from the house. “The Forest Service does have authority to close Forest Service land, but that’s why your comments tonight are your opportunity to weigh in. The Forest Service supervisor will make the decision at the end of the day.”

 

To make a comment or to sign up on the email comment list go to http://www.sportshootingpartners.org/commentform/. For information about the project and to view maps go to http://www.sportshootingpartners.org/project-information/.