Colorado Parks and Wildlife hopes for solutions rather than fights over Basalt shooting range | AspenTimes.com

Colorado Parks and Wildlife hopes for solutions rather than fights over Basalt shooting range

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will host the first of two public meetings tonight to discuss the future of the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range, and changes already are expected.

The shooting range was the point of origin of the Lake Christine Fire on July 3. Two midvalley residents are facing felony arson charges after they started the fire by allegedly using prohibited tracer ammunition.

The fire destroyed three homes, has burned 12,588 acres and has caused economic consequences that are hard to determine.

The shooting range remains closed while CPW considers its future. Perry Will, area wildlife manager, said new management practices must be adopted.

"It can't be managed in the same manner moving forward," he said.

Will and CPW Director Bob Borscheid previously said all options are on the table for the range.

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There are options that can be explored, such as staffing the facility with a range officer, Will said. The shooting range is a public facility. CPW doesn't regularly staff it although officers frequently swing through. The Roaring Fork Sportsmen's Association operates and staffs a skeet and trap facility on weekends.

Prior to the fire, the gun range had critics due to the noise from weapons firing. Will said he believes noise can be addressed. He is studying the oil and gas industry's use of sound barriers around drilling rigs near Battlement Mesa as a potential model. A battle over noise issues at the shooting range in 2010 ultimately went nowhere.

The Lake Christine Fire has prompted other western Colorado operators of shooting ranges to review their regulations. The town of Gypsum reopened its Gypsum Shooting Sports Park on Thursday after adopting new rules.

The Lake Christine Fire sparked a grassroots effort to close the Basalt shooting range at its present site immediately and relocate it. A group of Basalt-area residents contend the facility is unsafe at the current location due to flammable vegetation being located less than 1 mile from residences and businesses. This was the second fire in six years. Basalt firefighters and a tanker dropping retardant prevented the spread of a fire in August 2012.

The group Midvalley Residents is headed by Stacey Craft, Michael Kerr, Cindy Kerr and Michael Luciano.

Defenders of the shooting range counter that the facility is safe when used appropriately. It's been in use since the mid-1960s. They claim closing the range will result in target shooters dispersing in national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands around the valley.

There are dueling petitions circulating to keep the range open and to close it.

The Basalt Town Council directed its staff Aug. 14 to draft a resolution urging CPW to pursue searching for a new location for the shooting range.

CPW is stressing the need for people to work together in seeking solutions.

"Everyone in this community has gone through a very stressful time and we are very sympathetic to their concerns," Will said in a statement released by CPW on the meeting. "We encourage people to come to these meetings, listen and to share ideas. It won't help to talk past each other. We need to hear each other so we can move ahead in a constructive manner and the community can begin healing."

In an interview with The Aspen Times, Will said it is CPW's hope that working groups are formed after the meeting to focus on specific issues. The possibilities include one group working on management practices that would be needed if the shooting range remains at its current location. Another group could look at noise abatement and safety improvements at the range. A third group could explore relocation of the facility, he said.

He remains optimistic solutions can be found that keep the facility open.

"It won't be perfect for everyone," he said, adding people on both sides of the issue will have to compromise.

CPW hired a facilitator from the Keystone Policy Center to try to keep the meeting on track and prevent it from turning into battling factions bashing one another. The meeting will be held at Basalt High School from 7 to 9 p.m. (which is starting later than initially contemplated).

After a welcome, CPW officials will discuss the history of the shooting range and management considerations for the future. The meeting also will feature a panel of officials with CPW and other agencies in a Q&A format about the shooting range and fire, followed by brief remarks by "invited stakeholders."

Public comment will be held for 50 minutes and speakers will be limited to one minute and urged to focus on solutions. Attendees also will have the opportunity to submit written comment cards and remain after the official meeting ends to participate in a brainstorming session with flipcharts on the walls.

A draft agenda for the second meeting Aug. 27 includes work in small groups. That meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Basalt High School.

Members of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, an appointed board that governs the agency, will attend the public sessions in Basalt, according to Lauren Truitt, CPW public information officer.

"CPW will take the ideas provided during the meetings, in addition to ideas generated during future discussions, and use them to form effective management decisions going forward," the agency said in a statement.

(This story was edited to accurately list the fourth organizer of the group Midvalley Residents.)

scondon@aspentimes.com

IF YOU GO

What: Town meeting to discuss Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range

When: Tuesday, 7 to 9 p.m.

Where: Basalt High School, 600 Southside Dr.

Why: Seeking solutions on the future of the shooting range. Meeting will include time for public comment.