CPW Director: No options ruled out for Basalt shooting range
Colorado Parks and Wildlife will conduct an extensive investigation into the Lake Christine Fire and open a process that allows everyone to comment on future management of the Basalt shooting range, according to the head of the agency.
Director Bob Broscheid said in an interview while he visited the Roaring Fork Valley last week that he is leaning toward keeping the shooting range closed during the investigation.
“We’re probably going to leave it closed until this review comes out,” he said.
The agency temporarily closed all shooting ranges in its northwest region in the wake of the Lake Christine Fire, which as of Tuesday afternoon was at 11,796 acres and 39 percent contained. Fire danger remains extreme in parts of the region.
The first step in the process will require a staff investigation into circumstances surrounding the fire. It will go beyond looking into the actions of Richard Karl Miller, 23, and Allison Sarah Marcus, 22, both of the El Jebel area. They were arrested and charged with arson after allegedly firing tracer bullets, which are illegal at the shooting range, shortly before 6 p.m. July 3 and igniting the fire.
Broscheid said he wants to look at the fire restrictions that were in place at the time and CPW’s management of the shooting range: “Where we went right and where we went wrong.”
The White River National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, Eagle and Pitkin counties were in stage 2 fire restrictions at the time. The restrictions remain in place — prohibiting everything from campfires to smoking outdoors.
Some members of the Basalt Town Council and the public contend the shooting range should have been closed when those restrictions were in place. However, the stage 2 restrictions don’t ban lawful use of firearms on federal lands. A person wanting to shoot targets could have just gone out in the woods July 3 if the shooting range was closed.
“One of the bad things we could do is make a snap decision without talking to everyone,” Broscheid said.
He noted that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper requested an “after-action review” and has the agency’s full support. Hickenlooper toured the burn area and met with media July 6 in El Jebel.
“Obviously, something like that should never happen when you have fire restrictions like we had in place,” Hickenlooper said at the time. “We’ll figure out why it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I guarantee it.”
Broscheid said everyone shares the goal of not wanting a tragedy such as the Lake Christine Fire to be repeated. Once all the facts are in, CPW will be in a better position to determine what changes, if any, are needed at the shooting range.
“I think anything’s an option,” he said. “I’m not ruling anything out.”
He stressed that meetings will be held to give people on all sides of the issue a chance to comment. There are strong midvalley contingents for both closing the range and keeping it open. It’s always an emotional debate.
CPW shooting ranges are open to the public. It is rare but not unheard of for them to be staffed with an officer making sure users are complying with regulations. CPW officials don’t regularly staff Basalt’s shooting range, though wildlife officers swing by.
Broscheid said CPW’s internal investigation into the fire will have to wait until agency officials in Basalt are finished assisting with the firefighting effort and the aftermath — such as taking steps to ease possible flash flooding.
The state wildlife area suffered extensive damage from the fire. There was irrigation and farm equipment on site to work a hay field used for the benefit of wildlife. Broscheid toured the property July 7.
“There’s really not much left,” he said. “My thought was devastation and loss.”
He said he was proud of the response of CPW officials at the wildlife area on the evening of the fire. Some used heavy equipment to help create a firebreak. Others were trying to remove equipment from harm’s way.
“They are really taking this fire personally,” he said. “I know we had two employees evacuated” from neighborhoods affected by the blaze.
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Studies by Colorado Parks and Wildlife show the survival of elk calves in the Roaring Fork Valley has dropped about 33 percent in the last decade. White River National Forest officials said they need to act to try to reserve that trend. They are seeking public comment on their plan.