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Population Growth and Sport Shooting on Public Lands Present a Challenge in Colorado

By: Robert Davis

Colorado has welcomed swaths of new residents from all over the country since 2000, many of whom are settling along the Front Range. This population growth is presenting a problem for local municipalities struggling to balance the rights of law-abiding sport shooters.

To help resolve this problem, The Northern Front Range Recreational Sport Shooting Management Partnership (NFRRSSMP), a multi-jurisdictional organization that also works with the U.S. Forestry Service and Colorado Parks & Wildlife, is developing “designated shooting areas” in the state’s national forests and open spaces to curtail illegal sport shooting on public lands.

“We want to stress that this is first and foremost about public safety,” Reghan Cloudman, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forestry Service, told Gunpowder Magazine.

Sherriff’s offices from Clear Creek, Boulder, Larimer, and Gilpin counties, along with county commissioners, collaborated on a contingency measure that allows for restrictions of sport shooting only after a shooting range has been built. The measure does not restrict lawful hunting on public lands.

The Forest Service describes the project in a draft notice as necessary because, “Colorado’s population is growing rapidly, and more than 80 percent of this population growth is occurring along the Front Range,” thereby putting shooting sport sites and residential areas in too close of a proximity to be deemed safe.

Media reports suggest that this measure is a blanket ban for sport shooting on certain public lands. The Partnership denies this, pointing to their focus on educating both landowners and sport shooters about the activity and their respective responsibilities.

“Although it may look like we’re restricting access to these lands, in reality, we’re giving sport shooters a clearly demarcated area to recreate in,” Garry Sanfacon, project coordinator for NFRRSSMP told Gunpowder Magazine. “This will ensure sport shooters can safely continue to recreate without harming residents nearby.”

Cloudman says too many people assume they can just walk into a national forest with their guns and set up targets to shoot. Too often, they don’t realize there may be a house nearby.

Sheriff’s offices in each of the four counties confirmed they have received an increasing number of calls for illegal shooting and close encounters with stray bullets from residents.

USA Today reports the Forestry Service has handled nearly 8,500 shooting incidents across the country, with nearly 1,000 of those in Colorado alone.

Regulations are already in place regarding what is considered lawful sport shooting on Colorado’s public lands. But this hasn’t stopped accidents from occurring. And the Forestry Service has little authority to enforce these laws.

In Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, for instance, shooters can neither possess open containers of alcohol while shooting nor use exploding targets. Target areas must be set up at least 150 yards from “a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation area or occupied area,” according to the Code of Federal Regulations Title 36.

There are only four rangers who patrol Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, however, which span more than 700,000 acres.

“Shooting a gun doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. But, we have to ensure everyone can enjoy the beauty of our public lands safely,” Cloudman said.

The objection period for the draft notice has ended. A final decision will be made soon, though any new regulation may take some time to go into effect.

Robert Davis is a general assignment reporter for Gunpowder Magazine. You can contact him with tips or comments at RobertDavis0414@gmail.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.