Editorial: Basalt shooting range needs to be staffed, updated after Lake Christine Fire | AspenTimes.com

Editorial: Basalt shooting range needs to be staffed, updated after Lake Christine Fire

Aspen Times editorial board

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and gun enthusiasts in the Roaring Fork Valley make a convincing case that the shooting range at the Basalt State Wildlife Area should remain open at its current location.

Now it's time they earn the public's trust in the wake of the catastrophic Lake Christine Fire, which destroyed three homes, disrupted the lives of all midvalley residents and to date has cost $17 million to fight. The fire originated at the shooting range July 3 when a couple admitted to firing prohibited tracer rounds.

We consider the shooting range a valuable asset in the valley, and CPW must start treating it as such. The state agency needs to hire a range safety officer to be on duty for whatever hours the facility is open. That likely will mean limiting the hours of operation, but it is a reasonable compromise.

CPW also must improve mitigations to guard against another catastrophic wildfire. The area is scorched, but in just a few years the fuels could be back to levels that pose a risk. It was just six years ago this month that another fire broke out at the shooting range and required quick action by Basalt firefighters with the aid of a federal air tanker to prevent the spread of the fire beyond 80 acres.

Sportsmen and other supporters of the range argue that there shouldn't be an overreaction to two wildland fires started by illegal activities. The gun range is safe when used properly, they contend.

They are missing the point. There will inevitably be additional illegal uses — which could potentially start a fire — if the range isn't policed. Because we are humans and fallible, it is necessary that we regulate ourselves.

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If CPW cannot come up with the funds for a range safety officer, sportsmen will have to put their money where there mouth is. They will have to assist CPW to cover the cost, be it through a fee or voluntary contributions.

We need to keep the range open to avoid pushing recreational shooters into public lands and creating makeshift shooting areas.

A 60-year-old grandfather was killed in 2015 in the Pike National Forest when a stray bullet hit him while he was roasting marshmallows at a campfire with his family; the shooter has not been found.

If done right, the Basalt range could become a place for the upper valley's law enforcement agencies to use as well, instead of the facility many currently use at the county's solid waste center.

CPW's responsible management of the shooting range must also include beefed-up efforts to prevent a wildfire and respond if one breaks out. The earthen berms behind the targets can be larger and more ground can be scraped of vegetation. Proper infrastructure should be added to aid firefighters in quickly snuffing any fire that breaks out.

While noise concerns have been raised during the recent debate about the range, the more important issues here are safety and management. We urge CPW to continue to be a good neighbor and work to reduce the noise during this retooling of the decades-old Basalt range.

As cooler heads prevail in the wake of the emotional issue, the key is to see that the cost of improving the shooting range at this time and staffing the facility in the future will pay huge dividends. And, it will keep the community protected and remind us of what a powerful and safe resource the range can be for sportsmen and the valley.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of the publisher, editor and member of the Times' staff.