About Lazy Shooters and Trash on Our Ground

I was planning to write about something else this week. That was before our Homey Powwow on Durr Road off Umtanum last Saturday. The Kittitas County Field and Stream Club carried out its 16th annual pick-up and clean-up of the casual shooting areas along the road. Our clean-up day always happens around Earth Day (April 22, since 1970). This year, a bit more than four dozen volunteers came to play.

The reason we Homeys get together to play outdoors on this day each year is our commitment to protecting our public ground. In this case, our ground is managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). We do it because a number of irresponsible shooters and idiots can’t control their urges to leave evidence of their ability to mess up the countryside. (One year, the fools were literally dropping trash behind us – some sort of anti-outdoor-clean-up behavior, I supposed.)

We picked up empty rifle and pistol brass, bag upon bag of spent shotgun shells, paper, cardboard, shot up computers, shattered glass building blocks, tires, cans and plastic bottles, countless broken beer, wine and champagne bottles, and pickup loads of almost anything else a fool could carry to the hill, shoot up and leave behind. This year, we even found a very large flat screen TV which had, apparently, been used to test shot shell patterns. Official numbers aren’t in yet, but we pretty much filled the 30-yard dumpster provided by Waste Management, to the tune of somewhere around two tons of shooters’ irresponsibility. This year’s messes were more disheartening than any year I have been in on the cleanup. There are, apparently, more and more people who just can’t play nice on our public ground. It turned my gut, frankly, and you know I have a pretty strong stomach.

I know a dozens of folks who go out to the wildlife ground along Durr Road to sight in firearms and have a little fun with clay pigeons or shooting in general. To a person, they pick up after themselves and probably carry home more than the targets and gear they took with. So where on earth do those 30 cubic yards of shooting trash come from? It turns there are hundreds of people who avail themselves of the opportunity to go shoot on this public wildlife area (and other areas, too, I hear).

This “Durr Road” shooting area is within the Wenas Wildlife Area, managed primarily by DFW. The wildlife area contains about 115,000 acres of state and federal public lands in Kittitas and Yakima counties.

For years, efforts have been made. We have reached out with education, and random visits/patrols to little avail. (I still see the face of the young man who explained to me that he and his friends didn’t have to pick up their shooting debris, because “they come out here every year and clean it all up!”) There are not enough wildlife enforcement agents to effectively cover all the public ground – and no funds to hire more. During fire season shooting hours have been curtailed over the past few years; that seems to have limited the occurrence of range fires, but trash still piles up.

Answers? Major scrums continue to occur as various organizations and DFW seek solutions. Amid long-standing trust issues are arguments over limiting all shooting to one or two established sites versus unfettered access to the public’s land. Even the legislative delegations from the counties involved have weighed in on the issues.

DFW has now contracted with an outside group to put together an advisory committee to address target shooting issues within the Wenas. It is to include 15 to 20 members, chosen from among those of us who submitted applications over the past few weeks. The committee is to represent the interests of neighbors, hunters, target shooters, horseback riders, mountain bike riders, motorized vehicle users, hikers, wildlife watchers, bird dog trainers, and other stakeholders. This Target Shooting Committee is to meet in Selah at least monthly through next winter. Members of the committee will also participate in public meetings and workshops.

Time will tell how the committee works out. I’m already hearing concerns about the selection process itself and worries about shooters being intentionally kept off the committee. Then there are the frets about this simply being a way for DFW to codify limiting shooters’ access to their public lands, and creating a model to be use on other wildlife areas across the state. I’m hoping this turns into a genuine collaborative effort to solve the user issues. There certainly will be a lot of folks watching the process.

In the meantime, a number of us who’ve taken the Eyes in the Woods Training are talking about regular monitoring of the Durr Road shooting areas. Carefully kept notes and observations passed along to law enforcement could lead to much more effective care of our ground.

The next Eyes in Woods class is Saturday, May 6, 10 a.m. at the Wild Horse Wind Farm. Show up and take the training. You will enjoy it. Then find a time to help us watch our ground.

This is our ground. If we don’t start seeing it that way – and caring for it accordingly – I expect we will see a continuation of this “business as usual” mess on our wildlife areas.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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