VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 28   |   JULY 13 – 19, 2011


Recreational shooting banned throughout Tonto under fire restrictions

‘We have the authority to regulate recreational shooting’

smokey the bear fire dangerCAVE CREEK – Several locals contacted Sonoran News recently to inform us about signs posted at various entrances to Tonto National Forest stating shooting is prohibited.

After looking into it, we learned there is a ban on recreational shooting activities but not shooting for hunting purposes.

The original restrictions date back to 2001 when the U.S. Forest Service imposed a recreational shooting ban on approximately 81,000 acres of Tonto National Forest, which it referred to as the “urban interface” abutting Scottsdale, Mesa and Cave Creek.

At the time, the Forest Service deemed the once favorite pastime of “plinking,” shooting at whatever random targets one could find out on unpopulated public lands, a problem.

The Forest Service claimed the recreational shooting restrictions were long overdue; noting the population of the metro Phoenix area grew from around 500,000 in the mid 1960s to 4 million by 2001.

Tonto sees approximately 35 million visitors annually. Easy access makes it a popular destination for hiking, horseback riding and, with the Great Western Trail passing through, to off-road enthusiasts.

Forest service personnel, however, considered recreational shooting a potentially dangerous mix with these other recreational activities.

And, sure, out of the hundreds of people who might go out on any given day and target shoot anything from beer cans to washing machines, some leave trash and shell casings behind.

Back in February 1998, National Forest Service Deputy Chief Robert Joslin testified before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health.

He stated, “The lawful use of firearms for shooting and hunting remains a welcome and legitimate use of national forest system lands.”

Although he mentioned excessive criminal activity associated with shooting in San Bernardino National Forest in California that led to the 1995 closure of the Lytle Creek area, Joslin concluded his testimony by saying, “[T]he Forest Service, through policy and actions, supports recreational shooting on national forest system lands. Recreational shooting is addressed at the local level on a case-by-case basis. Individual national forest supervisors must sometimes take action to limit shooting to protect forest resources and the safety of recreationists and residents who live nearby.”

So, as the 2001 shooting ban moved recreational shooting away from the urban fringes and other recreational activities, NRA field representative Dean Hall commented, “We’ve got a big problem out there with bad shooters, no doubt about it. And then the problem will be pushed out onto more remote and pristine areas, and they will use the same logic to shut those down. It won’t stop until it’s all under the ban.”

Well, recreational shooting is currently banned throughout Tonto, as per the Forest Service’s May 11 order under the guise of fire restrictions.

The order remains in effect until Aug. 31, unless the Forest Service issues an order to rescind it sooner, or issues another order to continue it longer.

When asked why recreational shooting was banned while shooting associated with hunting was OK, Helen Graham, Tonto National Forest Deputy Fire Staff, told Sonoran News, “We have the authority to regulate recreational shooting.”

A June 27, 2011 press release quoted Graham as saying, “Recreational shooting is also banned throughout the forest under current restrictions, and is of particular concern. We’ve had six fire starts since April related to recreational shooting activities.”

However, when I spoke to Graham on Monday she was only able to provide information about one fire associated with recreational shooting from about 10 years ago, where people were shooting at a satellite dish in a pile of junk.

She couldn’t remember, because it was so long ago, how shooting could have started that fire.

“We suspect the Picket Fire may have been due to recreational shooting,” said Graham, although she stated the cause was still under investigation.

The Picket Fire, which began on Mother’s Day and had Highway 60 closed in both directions, was said to be human caused, destroying 1,336 acres near the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Superior and Globe before it was contained.

Graham said they try to go through a thoughtful process when proposing restrictions and said the fire restrictions, which include a forest-wide shooting ban, would probably be lifted sooner than Aug. 31.

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