Residents of Crystal River Ranch, which is about a mile from the site, say shooters have sent bullets whizzing into their neighborhood.
The U.S. Forest Service has banned shooting at a popular target-practice site near Greenwater after years of complaints from people who live nearby.
“We cannot continue to go in every week and clean up after the public, or members of the public, who just think they can come out and leave whatever kind of garbage or trigger trash behind them thinking it’s OK, it will get cleaned up,” said Martie Schramm, the Snoqualmie district ranger, of the popular shooting location just off Forest Road 7013. “The amount of trash being left behind, the amount of destruction occurring to the natural environment as well as an overall public safety concern — that caused us to close the location to target shooting.”
The emergency ban, which began July 2, will prohibit shooting for one year at the site, a logged hillside in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Residents of the Crystal River Ranch neighborhood, which is about a mile from the site, say shooters have sent bullets whizzing into their neighborhood. They also worry that the illegal use of exploding targets could start a wildfire that could threaten their neighborhood.
Chris Hurst, a former state representative, said that gunfire often wakes him up. “We’re not opposed to shooting. It just needs to be done in safe areas. It would be impossible to make 7013 safe to shoot.”
Shooting is generally allowed on national forest land so long as shooters have a bulletproof backstop and are at least 150 yards from campsites, structures and occupied areas. Shooting must not endanger anyone, according to Forest Service rules.
In recent years, the site’s popularity has been difficult for the Forest Service to manage, as the agency tried to preserve access for responsible shooters and also respond to community safety concerns.
Schramm said the Forest Service worked with members of the shooting community to alter parking at the site so people would fire into the hillside backstop and avoid the trees. She said she told both nearby residents and the shooting community that she would give those efforts a year “to see if we could get better compliance with people using the area.”
It didn’t work, she said.
Some shooters “were not firing into the backstop whatsoever and were firing across roads and shooting at some of the trees that were surrounding the area — just kind of blasting away at them trying to get them to knock over,” she said.
Hurst and others have been documenting problems at the 7013 site for several years. He said he has found evidence of seven small brush fires he suspects began after people illegally shot exploding targets.
He once returned to the site two weeks after cleaning it up, he said, only to find more than 100 flammable targets or chemical bottles that had been shot. Bullet casings, shotgun shells and various bullet-riddled targets litter the forest’s understory there, he said.
Wendy Scholl, who also lives in the Crystal River Ranch neighborhood, said she has watched shooters firing into the air with semi-automatic weapons at clay pigeons.
Dan Solie, the co-owner of waguns.org, a gun-enthusiast community, said he understands concerns about the trash. His organization has organized several cleanups.
“Ninety-nine percent of shooters are responsible, law-abiding, pick up after themselves and other people, but it’s that 1 percent that makes us look terrible,” Solie said.
But Solie said he didn’t understand how closing the site would help or why the Forest Service decided to take that action now, calling the decision “extremely premature.”
“There was no event that warranted an emergency closure. It was all of a sudden, boom, closed,” he said.
Solie said he thought the site’s redesign should alleviate safety concerns. Solie said he could not see how a bullet could reach Crystal River Ranch from that location. He said that he suspects residents’ chief concern is noise.
“The Crystal River Ranch area is kind of an echo chamber. You can hear everything going on from the valley above,” Solie said.
Removing access to the 7013 won’t solve that problem, he said, because people can still shoot nearby. The closure might push shooters into less-safe areas.
“By closing that shooting area down you’re not going to stop the shooting from happening in the forest. Now, you have a collective area where people come to shoot. They leave their trash. Fine — well that’s one area,” he said. “Now, you’re going to drive all these people up into the forest and they’re going to shoot in other areas. They might not know what the backstop is.”
The temporary ban could precede wider changes to recreational shooting in the Greenwater area and along Highway 410. The Forest Service’s Snoqualmie Ranger District is broadly examining how people recreate in the forest as part of its Snoquera landscape analysis. Schramm said the Forest Service could expand or develop new sites for shooting in the area. Projects could begin as soon as next summer.
Both Solie and Hurst said they hoped the Snoquera analysis would increase access to safe shooting on nearby forest lands.
“We’re not opposed to the shooters. We continue to support safe-shooting areas,” Hurst said.