Commentary: Illegal gunfire on public lands could land recreational shooting in the crosshairs
As summer begins to draw to a close, many of us will spend our spare time recreating on our nearby public lands. Public lands are not only vast and beautiful, but offer opportunities for many types of recreation.
One of those is recreational shooting—one of many activities people value on our public lands. These lands provide opportunities for a variety of uses—a chance for each of us, as Americans, to enjoy them in ways that resonate with our individual recreational pursuits.
Unfortunately, a number of wildfires on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands have been started this year by recreational shooting. Some of these fires were caused by people who chose to ignore common sense rules for recreational shooting on public lands.
These wildfires can be avoided. Equally as unfortunate are areas where unscrupulous shooters dump “trigger trash”—refuse used for target practice that is often left behind. In other places trees have become targets. Additionally, there are spots where it is simply not safe to shoot.
While the negative actions are primarily the fault of a small number of individuals, they reflect poorly on all shooters. None of us, shooters and non-shooters, should tolerate them. Fortunately, there are solutions. A bill currently before congress, the Target
Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act, would make it easier for state game and fish agencies to work with federal land managers to designate and improve specific areas as shooting ranges on public lands, thereby reducing the pressure of recreational shooting in non-designated locations. It is an effort worthy of support.
Another effort launched by the shooting community, “Change Your Range,” seeks to change the culture of shooting on public lands by teaching responsibility and stewardship.
Public lands are for multiple uses. That means uses for everyone—recreational shooters included. But people also need these lands for hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, camping and all other manners of recreation. These lands have huge economic value, including livestock grazing, outfitting, timber harvest or other uses.
People’s livelihoods depend on ecologically healthy, sustainably managed public lands. Damage to these lands, whether through extreme events such as wildfire or misplaced activities like shooting at trees, impacts the ecosystem, landowners, permittees and other recreationists.
Our rights of access to public lands come with the requirement of personal responsibility to care for these lands—a responsibility that none of us should take lightly.
Recreational shooting should be maintained as a legitimate use of public lands. But shooting enthusiasts, like other public land users, need to respect the lands they use and the others who also own those lands—all Americans. That respect will improve the experience of all, the safety of all, and the landscapes we hold so dear.
Check with your local USFS or BLM office prior to heading out to go shooting on public lands. Their staff can help you find the areas where recreational shooting is allowed and make sure you are comfortable with the rules. Go check out www.changeyourrange.org to see what you can do to clean up “trigger trash.” Most importantly, learn what you can do to become part of the solution—not the problem.
Lawrence Keane joined the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 2000 and is senior vice president for government and public affairs, assistant secretary and general counsel to the NSSF, Inc. Lesli Allison is the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance.