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More than 80K Acres of Boulder County Forest Would Close to Shooters Under Federal Plan

September 21, 2018

David Bahr in 2015 shows a tree stump that had been shot so many times the tree had fallen down near his home near Nederland,

Recreational Sport Shooting

The Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest draft decision is at: fs.usda.gov/project/?project=46910

An interactive map of the closure areas can be seen at: https://bit.ly/2prnt0h

U.S. Forest Service officials on Thursday released the draft decision of a proposed recreational sport shooting management plan that would close about a quarter million acres of the 1.4 million acres Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests to such activity.

Those closures will not take effect in Boulder County or into southern Larimer County until a public shooting range of at least 25 shooting lanes has been opened. The process of establishing such a facility is ongoing, however, and unlikely to come to fruition before 2020.

Additionally, because the plan newly released by the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest is at this stage only a draft, it opens a 45-day objection period. During that window, only those who have previously provided comments during the formal comment period have standing to object. It is not expected to be finalized until late this year or early in 2019.

The plan will not affect lawful hunting with a firearm in areas where it is currently allowed.

Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner took part in the conference call, along with officials from the forest service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, to announce the plan which culminated about a five-year process.

“Starting five or six years ago, we were getting from our constituents a lot of phone calls about concerns with recreational shooting and dispersed shooting in the forests. Either they were hiking or biking, and there was shooting going across the trails, or there were residents out there who had conflicts” with shooting endangering their property, Gardner said. “We all knew that we couldn’t solve this problem by ourselves.”

Boulder and Larimer Counties both entered into what is known as the Northern Front Range Recreational Sport Shooting Management Partnership , a multi-agency effort to provide sport shooting opportunities, while mitigating conflicts with area residents. Also participating in that partnership are Clear Creek and Gilpin counties, as well as the forest service and CPW.

“The focus since the beginning has been to protect the rights of all the users of the national forest here, including sports shooters, hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and campers,” Larimer County Commissioner Tom Donnelly, a member of the sport shooting management partnership, said in an interview.

“We all live here together.”

Five years and counting

Forest Supervisor Monte Williams on Thursday said the draft decision “reflects the ideas and thoughts and concerns of all of those folks out on the ground, as they looked at their counties, or at the larger area as a whole.

“It’s not a perfect decision, but as a whole, when you look at it. I think it’s a really fair decision.”

Garry Sanfacon is the project coordinator for the shooting management project, and sees the forest service announcement as a significant benchmark.

“This took five years to get to this stage, and what I would say is that we feel pretty good. There were a lot of hurdles and a lot challenges, but we came together as a group and engaged the public a number of times. I think it’s a major accomplishment.”

Of the 1.4 million acres under the jurisdiction of the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests, the draft decision would restrict recreational sport shooting on 225,574 acres. That compares to only 18,301 acres that are currently closed to such activities. A total of 81,741 acres of the proposed closure areas fall within Boulder County.

The proposal calls for closing about 7 percent of the 610,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, which is essentially in Larimer County, by increasing the setbacks from homes, campgrounds and trails, Donnelly said. It also affects a section of Colo. 14 up the Poudre Canyon, which Donnelly said is not really suited to sport shooting anyway.

‘We’re exploring that option’

Boulder County has identified two potential sites for a 25-lane-or-more shooting range that would satisfy the conditions set by the forest service for the closures to take effect within its borders.

One would be an expansion of the Boulder Rifle Club ranges at 4810 N. 26th St. in Boulder, and the second would be at a quarry site owned by Cemex between Lyons and Estes Park.

“I think probably the first one that will come online will be an expansion of the Boulder Rifle Club,” Gardner said. “They have applied to CPW to get a planning grant and I think they have received that.

“It needs to go through a land use process to allow for this. They have had an application in and so we’ll be working them through the process on that and we are hopeful it can be done in an expeditious way. Now that the draft decision is out there, the pressure becomes on us to move as quickly as we possibly can on opening this range.”

Boulder Rifle Club President Steve Martin, however, did not indicate anything was imminent.

“We’re exploring that option,” he said, noting that “it’s a very complicated process.”

He added: “If we can help with that problem, we’re willing to explore those possibilities.”

And Sanfacon conceded, “It won’t happen next year,.” However, he added, “The fact that Boulder County even has two sites that they are exploring, those sites are not a done deal. They have many steps (to go), but a year or two years ago, we didn’t even have an available site.”

Vivian Long and her husband have lived just off Magnolia Road in unincorporated Boulder County east of Nederland since 1987. They are among many residents of that area who have complained that their quality of life has taken a hit from the actions of some inconsiderate recreational shooters.

She briefly reviewed the forest service’s draft decision Thursday and likes what she sees.

“It looks pretty good,” she said. “It looks like they have finally taken a look at what we asked, and responded. I’m pretty pleased with it.”

She did express concern about the timing of a Boulder range opening.

“That would not be acceptable to us, if that is something that is dragged out for another five or 10 years while they build a shooting range. We need something that is going to be more immediate than that,” Long said.

“All in all, what they’re planning to close (to recreational shooting) looks really good. But timing is pretty much a critical factor, here.”

Just between 2010 and 2016, according to the forest service, the Front Range population has surged from 3.9 to 4.4 million people, putting ever more pressure on public lands, with recreational shooting being just one of many contributing factors.

“The Front Range has grown so quickly, and there’s a lot more users in the national forest,” Donnelly said. “The idea was to find some common ground, and I think that’s what we did.”

Reporter-Herald reporter Pamela Johnson contributed to this report

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan

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