An environmental watchdog group has published the results of a five-year study that uncovered an ongoing “epidemic” of target shooting debris and damage spread across Los Padres National Forest.
“Everyone knows how nasty the Glass Factory can get,” said Los Padres ForestWatch director Jeff Kuyper, describing the shooting range off East Camino Cielo Road regularly littered with broken bottles and bullet-riddled appliances. “We kept running across other Glass Factories all over the forest.”
The report — found here — describes 94 unmanaged shooting sites along 210 miles of remote dirt roads filled with shotgun shells, lead bullets, and all manner of targets and trash. Many sites are close to waterways and campgrounds. Kuyper and his team found trees killed by repeated blasts and frequent evidence of hazardous waste like computer monitors and propane canisters. The report also notes how target shooting has sparked 53 wildfires since 1992 and is responsible for accumulating amounts of lead leaching into soils and streams.
“The results of our surveys were astonishing,” the report concludes. Nearly 50 years after forest officials first identified the negative effects of target shooting and called for stricter oversight, “the effects of unmanaged target shooting have increased dramatically, spreading to all corners of the forest.” It’s now one of the most widespread threats facing the area, Kuyper said in a later interview. “No other activity that takes place has such a profound impact.”
Federal law allows recreational shooting in Los Padres under certain conditions — shooters must be 150 yards from any building, campsite, or recreation area, follow common sense safety rules, not fire across a road or body of water, not shoot inside a cave, and not fire tracer rounds or incendiary ammunition. Within the Santa Barbara Ranger District there is a privately managed shooting range under permit with the U.S. Forest Service (the Winchester Canyon Gun Club), and three other designated but unmanaged shooting sites (the Glass Factory and two others.) ForestWatch identified 12 other sites within the district, most along Camino Cielo Road.
Nine wildfires have started at the Glass Factory since 1995, Kuyper said. Approximately 20-25 tons of debris collects there every three months. Kuyper praised the volunteers with gun clubs and environmental groups who organize regular cleanups, but he said they can barely keep up.
Kuyper noted that Southern California’s three other forests — the Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland national forests — have all banned unmanaged target shooting. They feature designated areas operated by private concessionaries, and as a result are cleaner and safer to visit, he said. “It’s long overdue for Los Padres to join them.”
In the report, Kuyper calls on the U.S. Forest Service to implement a 2005 mandate from its own Los Padres leaders to ban unmanaged shooting. He asserts it wouldn’t cost the department a dime more than it’s already spending on monitoring illegal shooting.
While U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Andrew Madsen said the department agrees with ForestWatch’s findings, it simply doesn’t have the personnel or funding to implement the group’s proposed solutions. The department already has a hard time enforcing the rules that currently exist, Madsen said.
“Recreational target shooting is a complex issue,” Madsen said. “For the most part, legal shooting is not where we’re having environmental problems. Most of the problems identified are caused by illegal shooting.” But because of their personnel and funding limitations, Madsen said, “we are unable to fully address the problems around illegal shooting, although our law enforcement officers cite violators when they encounter them.”
Plus, Madsen went on, the other three SoCal national forests are much smaller than Los Padres, and as such their campgrounds, trails, and other amenities are clustered closer together and preclude target shooting based on public safety. “The option to completely eliminate target shooting on Los Padres under the 2005 Plan was considered unworkable,” he said.
Right now, the Forest Service’s emphasis is on working with partners and volunteers on cleanups, Madsen said. He commended Los Padres Forest Association, ForestWatch, and CalGuns Shooting Sports Association for their efforts. CalGuns is planning a cleanup at the Glass Factory in the next month or two, he added.
Kuyper promised to keep pushing the issue given the scale of the problem. “This isn’t an issue of campers leaving a bit of trash,” he said. “What we’ve seen over and over are sites that look like garbage dumps.”