Short story...USFS officials are holding "public meetings" all over the country to access recrational uses of the public forestr resource. The local head rangers, who run their area like little medieval fiefdoms, get to choose which "critical areas" to address first. Here in the Front Range, Boulder District Ranger Christine Walsh, who is violently antigun, has been on jihad against recreational shootng. The local Greenies have been doing a series of "show trials" to try and justify their plan to end recreational shooting on USFS — aka, our — land. The second set of show trials, where we lowly citizens get to suggest "solutions" to the non-existant problems dredged up by the last set of public meetings, is under way.
I say they're show trials because:
1) Walsh has told me directly that USFS will "out-of-hand reject" any plans/suggestions that increase USFS liability. That includes any "no net loss" of shooting areas, any formal or informal maps to shooting areas, any information posted as to where and how people can shoot, signage at local shooting areas, even having Rangers give any information on how or where a person can legally shoot on USFS land, etc. This is despite the fact that shooting shares the same liability issues as equestrian sports and kayaking...USFS readily provides, maps, trail information, signage, helpful information, etc. for both equestrian sports and kayaking.
2) Walsh and USFS recreation Director Cat Luna told me directly that the "real issue" with recreational shooting was that by allowing it, USFS was "legally obligated" to clean up the lead contamination. This is nonsense on several levels:
• Lead contamination is hardly an issue in casual shooting areas, where the volume of use falls well below even the lowest EPA estimates on shooting ranges.
• The areas typically involved in recreational shooting in the high country are not "high risk" areas such as wetlands or streams. Rather, they're rocky, largely dry areas often already used for other activities that have far greater impact on the environment, eg motorized off-road activity, staging area for wildfire-fighting equptment in the event of fire, a heavily logged area, etc.
• The Front Range of Colorado is an old, heavily worked mining area! There are mine sites on USFS land that make Cernobyl look like a fun Sunday picnic destination — arsenic, heavy metals of a stunning variety, lead at a level far, far beyond any shooting range, a fascinating cocktail of lesser known carcinogens, the occasional radioactive waste material, etc. I know of at least one incident in the last 12 months where a commercial range was given a pass on cleaning lead contamination because, realistically, the mine sites represent a hugely greater threat. In short, USFS can't afford to clean up the mine sites in the forests; the shootng sites are inconsequential small potatoes.
3) USFS is actively closing shooting areas in the Front Range illegally, using a discredited interpretation of federal law as an excuse. As I've blogged about extensively (here's the link to my most recent story last year) and has been covered extensively in both GunWeek (most recently, Spetember 2006 Archives) and Soldier of Fortune, I first became aware of the USFS jihad when the range I shot on above the little mountain town I live in was shut down for "being within 150 yards of an occupied area," in this case a gravel road. Read my earlier post for all the pertinent information. In short, the USFS and the Department of Agriculture acknowledge that a "road" is not an "occupied area" as stated in Federal law.
The range I shot on, however, is still posted for that reason. At last Saturday's meeting, Ms. Walsh stated again that no shooting could be done within 150 yards of any road, street or highway. I challenged her on her interpretation of the law. First, she told me that "this is not the forum to address that issue." I responded if not here and now, when? This was, after all, a public meeting to address these "critical issues." She then told me that she and her executive staff had "no choice" but to post the shooting ranges, as the USFS Law Enforcement section had told her that was their interpretation of the law.
Hmmmmm, me thinks....so I go to the USFS Law Enforcement people and asked them why they interpreted the law in direct violation of their bosses in Washington. LE told me they did no such thing; that, in fact, the USFS administration had chosen to close the range over the recommendations of ther own enforcement officers and the objections of local law enforcement officers, some of whom actively used the shooting area for training and qualifying.
Here's what the Feds say about Ms. Walsh's personal interpretation of the law, from GunWeek:
Some critical issues were revealed during Gun Week’s investigation of this latest [USFS] incident. [Veteran USFS Public Affairs Officer in Washington D.C. Alan] Gibbs acknowledged that it is still the belief among USFS law enforcement officers and other staffers that a forest road is an “occupied area” as defined under a forest regulation first discussed more than a year ago as part of an earlier Gun Week investigation into shooting on national forest lands.After Saturday's meeting, I spoke with RKBA people in Arizona who are fighting USFS incursions there. They reported to me that USFS attempts to shut down shooting areas within 10 yards of roads had been stopped dead because the law does not support such shutdowns!
He confirmed that law enforcement bases its position on an unwritten, verbal “ruling” by an unidentified federal magistrate that a road is an occupied area. Yet last year, Mark Rey, Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment—essentially the man who oversees national forest operations—told Gun Week in an interview that this ruling is “an urban legend.”
And as this issue was going to press, Gun Week learned the truth about that “ruling” from the enforcement officer who had brought a case before a federal magistrate in Seattle more than 10 years ago.
USFS Officer Shane Wyrsch told Gun Week that the magistrate, whose name he could not recall, never issued a “ruling” that declared a road to be an occupied area. The magistrate, as Wyrsch recalled, was deciding a citation that Wyrsch, then new on the job, had written to a man who had been shooting, apparently right along a national forest road. During the course of his discussion, the magistrate apparently suggested that if there were people on a road, it might be considered an “occupied area.”
“But that’s all it was,” Wyrsch stressed to Gun Week in frustration, “just his opinion. Who’s to say that another magistrate on the same day on another case might not have said something else?”
Wyrsch agreed that this chance remark has “grown legs” and taken on a life of its own “in the retelling.” He concurred that it was not a formal ruling that has the same effect as law, and he promised that when he returned from an assignment in another state, he would “once again” try to explain this to USFS staff in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest either in a meeting or via e-mail, and try to put the misunderstanding to rest.
More than spitting in the face of their superiors, I am concerned that the Boulder Ranger District assumes that lying is an acceptable response to any public criticism. The Greenies have told different stories about the closing of the shooting area closest to me to everyone who has callled to ask about it. Senators and Cngressmen's office staffs have been told various that the area was closed because:
• "There's a subdivision across the street." I drove up there yesterday; apparently the subdivision has been deflated and stored for the winter. It looks to me like the only thing across the street is...more forest.
• "The shooting represents a danger to a nearby natural gas pipeline." There is a pipeline connection near the range...on the side of the road, where it is indeed at risk, from drunk drivers speeding down the gravel road!
• "We have complaints about the shooting on that range." I and longtime NRA Board of Directors member Col. Bob Brown directly asked to see all documentation on those "complaints" — in fact ANY complaints regarding recrational shooting anywhere on USFS Boulder District land. Ms. Walsh told us that 1) there was NO documentation of any kind; 2) that the USFS did not have the funds to record or even keep a log of incoming complaints; 3) that the USFS had issued no citations for littering or illegal dumping on range sites, because they "lacked the funding;" 4) That USFS had investiaged NO complaints of illegal shooting activities, because they "lacked the funding." The entire jihad against recreational shooting is alledgedly based on Ms. Walsh's "gut feelings."
I spoke with USFS enforcement and asked whether they could remember any complaints on the closed range...the answer was no. Oh, and despite the fact that USFS doesn't have the funding to actually do much of anything, they did find the $10,000 necessary to host a series of public meetings to discuss the "recreational shooting crisis," bring in USFS employees from around the state to act as "facilitators" and even hire local police to be on hand in case Col. Brown and I went postal!
In fact, two USFS officials were heard after the last public meeting discussing the lack of documentation on any actual complaints...one of the officials, thinking no one was within hearing range, said, "Well, the thing is we probably only get one a month...maybe less..." In short, even USFS officials are having trouble keeping tabs on their lies.
• "We get complaints about the noise from shooting areas." Welcome to the rural mountain West! In our little town, we have a pamphlet for urban newcomers that says, "WELCOME! Now Behave!" When you move to the rural mountains, it is not the same as living in the city. Cow dookey smells bad! The roads sometimes don't get plowed! Coyotes and mountain lions will indeed eat little Fluffy as an h'orderve, and the bears will wreck havoc on your grill if you don't clean it!!! Your cellphone doesn't work! And in a state where hunting is one of the top three industries, your kids are occasionally going to see Mr. Deer or Mr. Elk in a bloody, disassembled state, not yet conveniently packed in butcher paper or plastic wrap! You're also going to hear gunfire...get the hell over it! Show me in Federal law where my new neighbors from San Francisco have the "right" NOT to hear gunfire. I can hear gunfire from my house, and I like it! It means that people are exercising their Constitutional right, learning to defend themselves, practicing for a shooting sport, getting ready for hunting season. If the gunfire bothers you, there is housing available in San Fran!
We have a problem, boys and girls!
The next meeting Saturday March 3rd from 10:00 am - 12:00pm at Longmont High School 1040 Sunset Street, Longmont, CO.
See you there!