The federal bureaucrats running the Tonto National Forest (2.9 million acres of public land basically north of Phoenix) are talking about closing sections to public access. There reasons have caused serious concerns among people who use the land. Here's the inside scoop, with newest items listed first.
TONTO PROPOSAL SENT TO FOREST SERVICE
My draft of a proposal for keeping public land open to the public, and expanding the safe uses of the Tonto National Forest was hand delivered to forest supervisors on June 14, 2001. The proposal has been endorsed by the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, and is reproduced at the end of this report (send me an email if you'd like a formatted Word copy).
The "Tonto National Forest Unified Proposal" was placed before the Forest Service to ensure that the record reflects the feelings and rights of people who have been using these lands with practically zero incidents of any kind for generations.
BACKGROUND: Federal agents in charge of Tonto National Forest are gearing up for changes to outdoor marksmanship and recreational shooting on Forest Service land (they call it "wildcat shooting," a derogatory terms you should never use). Their actions are being watched closely at the national level, and could influence policy in all national forests.
They're most concerned with the use of land at easily accessible locations near the city lines, where target practice has been taking place at well known sites for decades. The current policy is basically: "It's a free country. This is our public land. You can use it in any way you want as long as you don't harm anyone. Anything a person does out there which is reckless or criminal should be handled by the authorities under our strict existing laws."
The new policy being developed would simply close off public land. Various excuses have been offered for such possible closures --
--there are too many people
--there are differing or competing interests (horseback / mountain bike / dirt bike / ATV / hiking / marksmanship / photography / other)
--shortage of law enforcement staff
--closure is easier than management
--difficulties of law enforcement
--signs of use from land being used
--target materials and shell casings visible at shooting sites
--guns are dangerous
--people sometimes obliviously wander near the line of fire
--new homeowners near the forest complain about all forest users
--a few bad apples spoiling it for everyone
--irresponsible shooters and no controls or law enforcement
How much land, and under what conditions it might be closed is unknown to us, but clearly, the agency has considered all sorts of options. Closure of all easily accessible and popular locations is being considered. Migration of marksmanship activity to unused, pristine areas of the desert hasn't seemed to phase the authorities. "The Pit" area near Mesa has already been fenced off to vehicular access.
A series of public meetings is under way to gather input before the agents act. It wouldn't hurt anything if you contacted the bureaucrats involved and made your feelings and thoughts known to them.
Forest Supervisor Karl Siderits (pronounced SIDE-er-its) is the top local honcho. 602-225-5200, Fax 602-225-5361, email@example.com. Reports can be made in person at any Forest Service facility. Asking questions and talking politely with the staff can be a most effective option.
A sensationalized front-page story in the Sunday Arizona Republic (6/17/01) confirmed that the Forest Service is well aware of unscrupulous and even illegal activities routinely taking place in the forest, and that repercussions for the perpetrators are basically non-existent. Instead of enforcing the law, the federal agents seek to close off the lands, a sadly typical bureaucratic-style response. By failing to enforce the law, it is easier to justify closures. This is a terrible way to run things. Isn't failure to discharge duties and to enforce the law its own violation?
It should also be pointed out that last year, 54 dead bodies (not
related to shooting sports) were removed from Tonto, a fairly typical
year. Yes, that's correct, a fairly typical year. Although news
reports for the rest of your life will repeatedly mention a single event
in which 12 schoolkids were tragically murdered, the fact that Tonto is
four times more dangerous in terms of mortality, EVERY YEAR, goes
unmentioned and totally distorts the public's perception of risks.
Tragically, this also prompts wholly inappropriate responses from your
TONTO NATIONAL FOREST UNIFIED PROPOSAL
This proposal reflects a general consensus of hundreds of concerned Arizonans who have reviewed its contents. Arizonans statewide look forward to working with National Forests in the state, in a cooperative effort, to promote firearms safety, to encourage firearms education, to ensure the continuation of noble and important traditions with long historical roots, and to provide for continued and long-term enjoyment by the public, of the National Forests of this great state.
PART A--Maintaining Appropriate Land Use
1. Multiple use of public lands is the routine, current and proper policy for Tonto National Forest, other National Forests, and other public lands in the state of Arizona. Multiple use is widely recognized and endorsed by stewards of public lands.
2. On Nov. 16, 2000, in testimony before the Arizona State Legislature Special Hearing on Shooting Sports on Public Lands, Tonto Forest Supervisor Karl Siderits testified, "Safe, responsible, recreational shooting is a valid use of National Forest Service public lands."
3. Free-range marksmanship, outdoor target practice and recreational shooting sports in the National Forests are valid and proper uses of these public lands, enjoy a long and unbroken tradition, history, culture and current use, and should be maintained. One popular location near Bartlett Lake Road is known to have been in continuous use since before World War II, and numerous other long-term sites are common.
4. No discrimination against users of such sites is known, nor would any discrimination against such users be appropriate policy or behavior.
5. A natural, predictable and normative result of population increases in the United States is increases in the use of public lands by the people. The fact that the U.S. population continues to rise is a wholly unacceptable grounds for closing public lands. The suggestion that public lands be closed to the public because people increasingly use them, if such a suggestion were made, would reflect the worst aspects of bureaucratic excess, would be an affront to the people, opposes the will of the Congress, and should be rejected categorically.
6. Forced changes to the completely natural patterns of use, or any actions which would cause migration away from the numerous traditional and safe sites appear inadvisable and should be avoided. Any Forest Service actions which would subject relatively pristine areas of the forest to intensified use appear inadvisable and should be avoided. Any Forest Service actions which would tend to force the public away from preferred sites with easy proximity appear inadvisable and should be avoided.
PART B--Enforcement Against Abuse
7. The Forest Service has announced its awareness of certain reckless, negligent, abusive and criminal conduct at some well-known locations. The Forest Service should post warnings and take other steps to give notice against such illegal conduct, implement regular patrols of these areas to deter such behavior by showing a Forest Service presence, use appropriate surveillance techniques to identify such abuse, and enforce the law through warnings, citations, fines, and when appropriate, arrests and prosecutions, when such illegal conduct is encountered and is severe.
8. The existence of reckless, negligent or criminal misuse of public lands, or the Forest Service's failure or inability to enforce laws against reckless, negligent or criminal misuse of public lands, is not a valid or acceptable cause for closing public lands to any lawful use by the law-abiding public. Failure to enforce laws against known reckless, negligent or criminal misuse of public lands may constitute a violation or may create legal exposure for those responsible for failing to enforce the applicable laws, and merits close attention.
9. Closure of any National Forest public lands to free-range marksmanship, outdoor target practice and recreational shooting sports, due to the number of existing federal law enforcement employees, or the number of any other type of federal or other employees, is arbitrary and capricious, and is not a valid or acceptable grounds for closure. While the Forest Service may seek to adjust its staffing levels upwards or downwards for numerous reasons, claims of employee shortages or excesses are not sufficient or valid grounds for closing our public lands to lawful use.
PART C--Suggestions For Needed Improvements
10. In addition to traditional and completely unfettered access for free-range marksmanship, outdoor target practice and recreational shooting sports in the National Forests, the Forest Service has an obvious and immediate need to establish a number of designated unsupervised marksmanship areas, with certain minimal facilities provided. This will help concentrate such activity and tend to reduce interactions with other forest users. These "use-at-your-own-risk" facilities should be located at areas with good backstops, and include, at a minimum, reasonable accessibility by motor vehicle, posted gun safety rules and basic range rules, frames and supports for suspending targets, concrete or similarly durable outdoor benches, shade ramadas and trash receptacles.
11. In addition to traditional and completely unfettered access for free-range marksmanship, outdoor target practice, recreational shooting sports, and a number of designated unsupervised marksmanship areas in the National Forests, the Forest Service should create a list of feasible sites, obtain funding through Byrne Grants, or cooperative agreements with the Arizona Game and Fish Dept., The Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, or other private or public sources, and commence development of at least one official and supervised range on each Forest Service property in accordance with existing guidelines under FSM 2335.4-Target Ranges, et. seq.; FSH 2709.11 Chapter 40 - Special Uses Administration-On Target Ranges; and under the Code of Federal Regulations, 36 CFR 251.54.
12. As part of its educational and stewardship missions, the Forest Service should, at the earliest possible date, and in cooperation with recognized marksmanship training experts, begin providing educational opportunities, and educational literature, for people interested in free-range marksmanship, outdoor target practice and recreational shooting sports in the National Forests. A certificate for successful completion of such educational opportunities, suitable for framing, should be made available to people who participate in such programs, but such certificate shall have no function other than its suitability for framing.
13. As part of its educational and stewardship missions, the Forest Service should, at the earliest possible date, and in cooperation with recognized marksmanship training experts, approach the Arizona public and private school systems, and offer to provide educational opportunities, and educational literature, along with marksmanship opportunities on Forest Service public lands. In light of widespread ignorance among school children and their teachers, of the proper role and safe use of firearms, and in consideration of tragic accidents involving children of school age, this proposal is considered of paramount importance. A certificate for successful completion of such educational opportunities, suitable for framing, should be made available to people who participate in such programs, but such certificate shall have no function other than its suitability for framing.
14. It is widely recognized that any use of land creates plainly obvious signs of that use, and this is normative. People within Arizona, eager to enjoy a safe and wholesome outdoor shooting experience, call on the Forest Service to announce, promote and organize voluntary cleanup days of traditional shooting areas. Reusable target materials found at such areas should not be removed during such periodic cleanups. A certificate for participation in such efforts, suitable for framing, should be made available to those who volunteer their time and energy, but such certificate shall have no function other than its suitability for framing.
Alan Korwin, Author
This proposal is endorsed by:
I plan to circulate our Unified Proposal for dealing with firearm issues in Tonto National Forest in a few days.
In the meanwhile, here's a report on what took place at the Cave Creek District meeting. It was written by a person (not me) who attended the meeting and prefers to remain anonymous. It's a shame people fear the government that much.
MORE TONTO FOREST NEWS--LAND SOUTH OF BARTLETT LAKE ROAD MAY CLOSE TO SHOOTERS
In a meeting on Thursday, May 31, 2001, recreational shooters discussed a wide variety of options in response to the proposed closure of shooting areas in Tonto National Forest. The specific area under discussion was the Cave Creek Ranger district near Bartlett Lake and Horseshoe Dam.
District Ranger Delvin Lopez was concerned that there were some unsafe shooting areas that received regular use, and he is proposing that they be closed. At one point during the meeting, Lopez mentioned the possibility of closing all of the ranger district south of Bartlett Lake Rd. to shooting. When asked where shooters would be expected to shoot, Lopez suggested the area north of Bartlett Lake Rd. near Seven Springs Wash.
The shooters at the meeting responded that this was a completely irrational solution fraught with potential problems. First, the Seven Springs Wash area is fairly close to Camp Creek and other camping areas where families and children now enjoy peaceful recreation. Second, Lopez pointed out that there are very few roads in this area and the terrain is so rugged that it would be difficult for shooters to make inroads into the forest.
If that is the case, would shooters then be restricted by geography to shooting near the road, which could unsafe? Or perhaps the Forest Service intends to make shooting increasingly difficult, hoping that shooters will just go away. At one point in the meeting, Lopez seemed to indicate that he held this opinion when he rhetorically asked: "Why don't you just shoot at Ben Avery?"
Third, because the Forest Service appears to have some concern over shooters' litter (brass, targets, etc.), it makes little sense for shooters to migrate north and litter new areas with brass and debris. Fourth, the areas currently used by shooters are typically shared with dirt bikers and ATV riders. Since both of these activities are noisy and participants know where the shooting and riding areas currently are, it makes no sense to migrate shooters or riders to new areas which would be unfamiliar to both of them.
Any such migration could result in accidents because the riders and shooters will not know where the others are. There have been no reported cases of shooters hitting hikers, bikers, or equestrians in the current shooting locations. In a sense, any drastic limitation on shooting in the Tonto National Forest seems to be a solution in search of a problem.
Most shooters agreed that if there were a few problem areas in terms of people shooting unsafely (i.e. shooting across roads or in areas without a backstop), it would be reasonable for the Forest Service to post these areas as unsafe and prohibit shooting there. Shooters also recommended simply enforcing current state laws against unsafe shooting. Somewhat mysteriously, Forest Service law enforcement personnel seemed to feel they could not enforce violations of state law on land within their jurisdiction.
I am not an attorney, but this sounds like a smokescreen to me. At the Mesa Ranger District meeting several weeks ago, the Forest Service party line was that they did not have the enforcement manpower to enforce safe shooting--enforcement jurisdiction was not really mentioned. According to law enforcement personnel, most of the Forest Service enforcement efforts are directed at boaters at the busy lakes and campers in crowded campgrounds. Using government logic, since boaters and campers consume most of the law enforcement resources, perhaps their use of the forest should be restricted.
Finally, shooters proposed some proactive solutions to the potential safety hazards of shooting on the Tonto National Forest. Perhaps the best solutions offered focused on building a series of modest ranges consisting of concrete benches, shade ramadas, and trash cans to draw shooters into safe areas with adequate backstops. Shooting would still be allowed in other areas of the forest, but most shooters would probably end up at the modest ranges which would be obviously visible to hikers, bikers, and equestrians.
A proposal was also made made to form a partnership of sorts with the Tonto National Forest to build and manage a more full-service range which could be managed by the ASPRA or similarly qualified shooting sports organization. These solutions would best address the long-term needs of the shooting community in an growing urban area which already has 3.5 million people.
In conclusion, I can only hope the rangers and administrators of the Tonto National Forest take these creative suggestions to heart, but I must admit to a certain amount of skepticm in this regard. It has been suggested by some that these "public information hearings" were simply the government's attempt to pay lip service to recreational shooters while continuing its larger agenda to make life increasingly difficult for gun owners.
To be frank, I small a rat from Washington in this whole push to ban shooting in our national forests. I have heard that shooting is largely banned in the national forests in California, and I have heard that the Prescott National Forest has plans to ban shooting within the next two years. I have been to many traditional shooting areas on both weekends and weekdays, and it is rarely crowded enough to pose any problems for the Forest Service or other users in the area.
On weekends, one might find 10-20 shooters at one of the larger areas, and on weekdays, my wife and I are often the only ones there. I repeat with emphasis--The idea of closing substantial portions of the Tonto National Forest to shooting is a solution in search of a problem, and I suspect this "solution" is coming from the bureaucrats in Washington.
There will be yet another meeting to garner "public input" regarding recreational shooting on the Tonto National Forest around the middle of June. It is ESSENTIAL that everyone who values his or her right to use OUR PUBLIC LANDS for recreational shooting attend the next meeting or at the very least contact Tonto National Forest Director Karl Siderits at (602) 225-5200 and inform him of your belief that it is your right to shoot on public lands as long as you do so safely. There are many other solutions to any perceived "problems" of recreational shooting in the forest, and the government's proposed "solution" will tell us whether or not they have been dealing with us in good faith.
EFFORTS TO CLOSE -- OR KEEP TONTO FOREST OPEN -- CONTINUE
Big Pow Wow Scheduled --
Thursday May 31, 2001
"Recreational Shooting Comments Wanted"
Concerned that the public might be too upset over proposed closures of Tonto National Forest to shooting sports, or to other public access, Forest Supervisor Karl Siderits has postponed his planned announcement letter and closure maps, originally scheduled for release on May 14. The letter and maps, it was learned, had been in place before a similar public comment meeting was held in Mesa.
I took a tour of the "trouble spots" with Mr. Siderits and two Forest Service agents -- a law enforcement officer and a forest ranger. There's no doubt that the size of the population in Phoenix is putting stresses on the land due to high usage. Conflicting interests complicate the situation -- dirt bikers annoy the horseback riders, mountain bikers get in the way of the ATV riders, all of them take risks by carelessly passing too close to marksmanship areas, etc.
If there were only nine people in the forest it would be no big deal, and when Phoenix had a population of 40,000 that was more the case. With the metro area pushing four million, bikers and the other intersts sometimes, well, collide. Whether that's grounds to close access to public lands seems patently wrong to me.
The idea to push forest users further inland, upsetting untouched areas of forest (desert), limiting use by making access impractically remote, and closing off traditionally enjoyed lands to the public that owns them, seems simply unacceptable. It certainly does not reflect the will of Congress, and local "authorities" should not even contemplate such blanket edicts, in this writer's opinion, especially when more reasonable, practical and legal options are available.
A draft of an independent private proposal for forest access and gun safety, circulated among interested parties in Arizona, has met with widespread support and a number of excellent suggestions for improvements. When finalized, this proposal (which went out to my AZ lists a few weeks ago) will be presented to the Forest Service (and you'll get the final beforehand). It contains reasonable and common sense proposals for voluntary shooter education campaigns, gun safety and marksmanship programs, shade ramadas at popular shooting sites, open access to public lands and more.
A Forest Service press release was scheduled for distribution on or about May 24, announcing another public meeting, similar to the Mesa District public comment meeting previously held, and is listed above. I plan to attend. Will I see you there?
WE MOVED ON MAY 29, 2001!
Only the street address changed, on 5/29/01:
"Spreading peace and freedom to people thru music."
on gun laws and other topics.