User groups weigh in on possible shooting restrictions in Hubbard Mesa
RIFLE — Members of various recreation groups expressed a range of opinions Thursday regarding recreational target shooting in the Hubbard Mesa area, signaling that the discussion might not be as unified as previously alluded to.
Comments and questions on the issue, which has become a safety concern for some and a threat to rightful use for others, were offered at the Rifle Branch Library during a meeting hosted by the Bureau of Land Management.
It was the last of three meetings this week intended to address the Roan Plateau draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which deals largely with contested oil and gas leases in the area.
As expected, Thursday’s meeting in Rifle was the most heavily attended and the discussion focused predominantly on the target shooting issue, which has become the hot-button issue surrounding the popular recreation destination north of Rifle — especially since a lawsuit related to the oil and gas leases in the area was settled in late 2014.
Fifty-one people signed in at Thursday’s meeting, according to David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the BLM Northwest Colorado District.
Under its preferred proposal, which is aligned with the oil and gas court settlement, the BLM is not suggesting any changes to recreation in Hubbard Mesa.
However, one alternative proposal — the BLM includes a range of proposals during such planning processes — suggests banning recreational target shooting within a quarter mile of the centerline of the Fravert access road. The ban would effectively prohibit target shooting on 610 acres.
That proposal confused some in attendance, who stated that the area directly off the road offers some of the most popular locations for target shooting, which has gone on in the area for decades.
Aside from popularity and established use, the location in the proposed ban lies in an area resembling a canyon, which creates cliff sides and outcrops that serve as backdrops, said Jake Mall, a Rifle resident opposed to the shooting restriction. By closing that area to target shooters, the BLM would be sending those people to flatter locations that lack the backdrop needed to safely shoot, Mall said.
Others also were skeptical of the proposal. The restricted zone would not solve any of the conflicts among users — it would only move those conflicts to other areas, said Lisa Zeman, another Rifle resident who uses the area for target shooting, archery and other forms of recreation.
Zeman, who also goes on walks while pushing her grandson in a stroller, does not see a safety issue in the area, but rather an issue with personal responsibility, adding that she is opposed to the restricted zone.
To that point, Perry Sweeney, a New Castle resident who target shoots in the area, said there is a need for more education among all users in the area. Enacting a restricted zone seems unnecessary, he said, adding that nobody has ever been shot. Still, more education and respect would go a long way to preventing an incident in the future.
“It’s a situation where shooters and bikers need to respect each other,” he said.
Communication among user groups would help, said Steven Spevere, another Rifle resident who mountain bikes and target shoots in the area. Spevere said he understood and shared both the concern about safety and the concern about restricted access on public land.
One point where there seemed to be agreement was the lack of enforcement already in the area. Members of various user groups pointed to the trash issue — which has long plagued Hubbard Mesa — and questioned if any changes would be enforced.
Zeman said in the decades she has recreated in the area, she has never seen a BLM ranger.
With limited resources and personnel, Boyd admitted that enforcement is a challenge, but he said the BLM does have a person who regularly patrols the area.
There were plenty of people in attendance, though, who felt adamantly that no one user group should lose access.
Several times during the presentation portion of the evening, Boyd reminded those in attendance that the preferred alternative does not alter recreation at all. The alternative that includes the shooting restriction provides the BLM with a range to act in.
The BLM could do nothing, it could close up to 610 acres to target shooting or it could do something between those two options, Boyd said.
Those two “extreme” options offer a good starting point, said Sean Strode, a mountain biker with the Rifle Area Mountain Biking Association. Hopefully, he said, the BLM will land somewhere in the middle because shooters have the right to be out there but so do mountain bikers, said Strode, who has expressed concerns over safety in the area. The difference, he added, is a gun is more lethal.
The discussion did feel as if one user group, firearm users, was being stereotyped and penalized, said Susan Nichols-Alvis, White River Trail Runners ATV/UTV Club president and secretary. Nichols-Alvis repeated her position that the land should remain open to all users.
While the meeting was intended to answer questions and allow the BLM to collect feedback, others were also taking the temperature of those in the room.
Barb Clifton, Rifle mayor pro tem, was there to gain a better understanding of people’s concerns. Among those were the issues of safety and enforcement. It does no good to make a law or policy if it’s not going to be enforced, she said.
Clifton also heard the point made by Mall and others that the restricted area in the alternative proposal may not be the best location to restrict target shooting. Although several other members of Rifle City Council trickled in and out throughout the three-hour meeting, Clifton said she intended to share what she learned with the rest of the council.
The BLM will continue taking comments on the Roan Plateau draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement until Feb 18. Boyd said he expects a final draft to be released in the fall of 2016, with a final decision coming in the winter.
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