Warm, dry weather fires up scrutiny of Basalt shooting range
The hot, dry spring has some Basalt residents nervous about continued use of the state shooting range without full-time supervision and safety improvements such as an irrigated firebreak.
But officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which owns and manages the shooting range at the Basalt State Wildlife Area, contend the agency has made progress on myriad safety improvements and strives for more.
Stacy Craft, a Basalt resident and vociferous critic of the range and its management, implored the Basalt Town Council at its meeting Tuesday night to “go above the head” of CPW and appeal to Gov. Jared Polis to shut down the range until it is “fire-safe.” The ultimate goal should be to relocate the range away from Basalt, she said.
“Basalt citizens need this Town Council to put health and safety and security of Basalt first,” Craft said.
She added that current management is “just a recipe for another devastating fire.”
CPW District Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita was not at the council meeting but when contacted Thursday he said numerous safety improvements have been implemented. While there is no full-time range officer, CPW has three employees who regularly check the range for use and compliance with regulations, he said. The wildlife officer for the Basalt area as well as a property technician and a part-time seasonal worker regularly check for use of the range and compliance with rules, he said. So while there is no single person dedicated full-time to monitoring the range, there are three employees regularly checking the site.
Their visits to the shooting range increase when Eagle County declares “red flag conditions,” which generally mean warm temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity increase potential for fire.
During red flag conditions and elevated fire restrictions, CPW consults with county officials on operations at the facility, he said. One important consideration is the likely displacement of target shooters if the range was closed during fire danger. Rather than using a maintained, supervised facility, shooters would simply go to unregulated public lands elsewhere in the valley, Yamashita said. Using a firearm isn’t prohibited during most fire restrictions.
CPW created bigger berms behind the target areas of some of the ranges after the Lake Christine Fire broke out at the shooting range on July 3, 2018. Richard Miller and Allison Marcus, a couple, pleaded guilty to starting the fire in a plea agreement reached in May 2019. Marcus fired a rifle the couple borrowed from Miller’s father. The rifle ammunition included incendiary tracer rounds that are banned at all times at the shooting range.
The Lake Christine Fire burned more than 12,500 acres of public and private land, destroyed three houses and forced evacuations of thousands of midvalley residents.
CPW officials have steadfastly contended since the fire that the Basalt shooting range is safe when used lawfully. Yamashita stressed Thursday that the vast majority of range visitors use the facility lawfully. To enhance safety in case of accidents, CPW has placed a water trailer with a pump and firehose at the facility. In addition, there are fire extinguishers in the shooting structures on the rifle and pistol ranges. Lines are being placed for installment of security cameras.
CPW is also exploring how to provide a steady water supply to create a greenbelt around the target areas of the ranges, according to Yamashita. Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Chief Scott Thompson recommended creating the irrigated greenbelt as a firebreak.
Yamashita said up to a few hundred acres are irrigated in any given year in the sprawling state wildlife area, when conditions allow. The water supply produced by springs on the property fluctuates due to conditions. CPW is working on building a ditch where water would be channeled and used for irrigation near the ranges.
However, officials want to ensure they have a regular water supply before planting vegetation. If it isn’t regularly irrigated, the dried vegetation would add to the fire risk, he said.
“We need to plant something that reduces fire danger when irrigated,” Yamashita said.
Noise has been another issue at the shooting range. There have been a couple of attempts in recent decades to close the range because of noise issues. However, hundreds of shooting enthusiasts have rallied to lobby CPW to keep the facility open whenever public meetings have been held. The shooting range is immensely popular with target shooters and hunters preparing their firearms for hunting seasons.
Yamashita said the state wildlife commission recently approved a change in the hours of operation for the Basalt range. Starting July 1, it will be closed year-round on Wednesdays.
The new hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday from March 15 to Oct. 14.
From Oct. 15 to March 14, the hours will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except during the closure on Wednesday.
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This summer in Aspen is likely to include indoor and outdoor concerts, maskless gatherings and no state or county-mandated restrictions on social distancing at restaurants or anywhere else.