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Wildfire brings scrutiny of illegal shooting range

 

Last updated 6/16/2021 at 7:42am



With a recent wildfire started by a ricocheted bullet adding to safety and noise issues, target shooting at Osborn Bay is a concern for some, and the federal agency that owns the area says it is illegal to target shoot on their lands.

In response to the June 5 fire at Osborn Bay, Electric City resident Jerry Kennedy submitted a public comment in an email that was read at Electric City’s June 8 city council meeting. The area lies within city boundaries.

Kennedy lives less than a mile north of a common, unofficial shooting range there where a shooter’s ricochet started a wildfire earlier this month. He expressed his issues with shooting taking place there, within city limits on federal land.

“The shooting in Osborne Bay has been a real quality of life issue for us,” Kennedy wrote. “One of our dogs, who has since passed on, became very frightened by the noise. Fortunately he was old and became so deaf it wasn’t an issue. But, our new dog is beginning to fear the shooting as well. Many people have pets that are affected.”

“The sheer amount of shooting that takes place is surprising,” he continues. “It’s not unusual to hear shots going on for hours during the day, with shooting happening even late into the evening. What used to be just local folks now includes the growing number of people who are camping there.”

The email continues to say that it’s more than a fire safety and quality-of-life issue. “It’s a life safety issue,” Kennedy wrote. “With people camping there, the chance of someone getting hurt is too great. In March, he, his wife and a friend “were walking our dog on the hill above the popular shooting area and we were almost hit by a ricochet,” he told the council.

Kennedy said that he and his wife had been told in the past that what the landowners wanted controlled whether shooting could take place there. 

“I’m not sure that that’s accurate,” he wrote. 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns the land, and two state agencies have some management authority of it — the Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Fish & Wildlife.

“I can’t imagine they’re in favor of allowing a practice that puts lives at risk, not to mention hitting fire control budgets hard when fires happen,” Kennedy wrote. “And the City has the power to control shooting by ordinance within the city limits.”

Kennedy ends the email saying he is willing to volunteer time and money to help solve the issues.

The city council didn’t discuss the issue further after Mayor Diane Kohout read the comment.

Target shooting is already illegal in the area, a USBR spokesperson told The Star.

“Discharging a firearm, including target shooting, is prohibited on Reclamation lands per Reclamation Code of Federal Regulation 43 CFR 423.30(b), unless it is being used lawfully for hunting and in compliance with any other applicable Federal, State and local laws,” USBR Public Affairs Specialist Jesselyn O. Hamilton wrote in an email Tuesday.

“Reclamation does not allow target shooting on any of its lands under jurisdiction of the Ephrata Field Office, but it is difficult to enforce due to the broad area across which Reclamation lands are located and the sometimes irregular occurrence of target shooting,” Hamilton continued. “The local field office is evaluating strategies to ensure more broad awareness of these regulations and enforce this rule where necessary, but it depends on Federal land users knowing the rules of the area where they are recreating.”

“Target shooting is a known cause of wildfire ignition,” USBR Ephrata Field Office Manager Marc Maynard said in response. “People who are shooting in any area should be aware that bullets will spark when they strike certain objects and fire can spread quickly, especially in dry and windy conditions.”

The USBR response notes that someone found to have caused a wildfire can be held responsible for fighting it and other related costs.

A 500-foot-wide, 7,281-foot-long no-shooting buffer zone was established in 2019 between Electric City residences and the Osborn Bay area, but does not include the target shooting area at issue. 

The area does still fall under the federal law that bans target shooting on USBR land, however.

The Bureau response elaborated on the enforcement issue. 

“The Bureau of Reclamation works with its local law enforcement partners at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife through a law enforcement agreement to help ensure public safety on lands it owns and manages,” Hamilton’s email reads. “Through this agreement, WDFW Law Enforcement actively helps to educate the public on applicable regulations, enforces State laws on Reclamation lands, conducts routine security patrols… and responds to enforcement needs at our request” from dump sites to shooting to illegal off-road vehicle use and more. 

Captain Mike Jewell of the WDFW Law Enforcement Program for the North Central Region said Tuesday that it is illegal according to federal law to target shoot in the area, but that the state agency is only able to enforce state laws.

WDFW can investigate violations of federal law but must forward those cases to federal authorities for prosecution, Jewell said, noting that target shooting violations may not be a high priority for federal courts.

“It’s accurate to say [target shooting] is illegal there,” he said. “People do it anyway. It’s just one of those grey areas of if there will be consequences if they violate that law.”

“Our [state] rules forbid people from shooting within 500 feet of businesses, residences, cell phone towers, campgrounds,” he said, noting that, although people camp in that area, it isn’t a formal campground.

If it were, the target shooting would violate state law, which WDFW could enforce.

The city of Electric City could also ban shooting from the area.

“It’s an area that’s very popular for a number of reasons,”Jewell added, “but we also have problems there from time to time.”

 

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