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Deadly shooting in Pike National Forest creates gun debate

July 8, 2015 Updated: July 8, 2015 at 5:24 pm
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The fatal shooting of a 60-year-old camper in Pike National Forest last week has prompted new scrutiny of lax enforcement on public lands.

Only two law enforcement officers patrol the 1.1 million-acre Pike National Forest, where Glenn Martin was shot at a campsite north of Woodland Park despite a target shooting ban there.

One officer is in charge of the equally huge San Isabel National Forest.

Martin's daughter Carlie said the family had heard gunshots while camping near Rainbow Falls and told a ranger, who said he'd check it out.

But as Martin prepared to roast marshmallows with his grandsons, a bullet struck him. The shooter has not been identified.

- Memorial service scheduled for Glenn Martin

With two officers in the forest, odds are long that one will show up in time. "It's a matter of whether we've got people in the area at the right time at the right place," said Tom Healy, a Forest Service law enforcement officer. "We try to locate them when we can."

Still, the number of warnings issued to shooters has risen dramatically in the past year - from 33 in 2013-14 to 450 in 2014-15, according to Forest Service statistics.

Enforcement on public lands is a shared responsibility of Forest Service, state and regional law enforcement, said Erin Connelly, who oversees the Pike and San Isabel national forests and Comanche National Grassland.

"The population and certainly the firearm interest is at least steady and probably growing," Connelly said. "It's a challenge for us and other land management agencies.

"It is a bigger issue than just our national forests."

Enforcement is only one facet of the agency's approach to curb illegal shooting. The Forest Service also works to educate shooters about local policies and to find places where earthen backstops can reduce gunfire risks. Martin's death confirmed the worst fears of area gun advocates.

"That's exactly why we formed this association, so there would be safe places to shoot in Teller County, so you wouldn't have to go into the woods somewhere and bang away," said Robert Glover, former membership director of the Teller County Shooting Society, which opened a range on County Road 81 toward Victor.

"I've been out hiking myself and heard bullets whiz over the head," Glover said. "There's a lot of shooting going on, and it's very poorly controlled. You'd be amazed how, just hiking in the national forest, you'll come to a place where people have dragged up their targets.

"Everyone thinks it's the largest shooting range in Colorado."

One shooting range owner called for a ban on gunfire in national forests.

"They're drinking, they're shooting, they don't know where the bullet's going," said Mel Bernstein, who for 36 years has owned Dragonmans public range east of Colorado Springs.

"They shouldn't really allow anybody in a public forest to shoot. It endangers everybody. It's very unsafe."

Connelly said she intends to renew a target shooting ban along Mount Herman Road in Monument, a 15-square-mile closure imposed in August with rangers citing a series of close calls, such as a Jeep hit by a bullet as a couple sat eating lunch nearby.

The closure pitted some gun enthusiasts against people who complained about reckless target shooting, damaged trees and littered shell casings.

The Friends of Monument Preserve, a citizens group, organized volunteers to clean up shooting sites along Mount Herman Road.

The Rainbow Falls area, where Martin was shot, is a popular off-road area with trails and roads for Jeepers, dirt bikers and ATV riders. They often camp along the roads within easy reach of recreational routes.

Target shooting was banned at Rainbow Falls in 2008, but because of thin resources, the Forest Service didn't erect signs or begin enforcing the ban until last year, about the time target shooting was banned on Mount Herman, officials said.

Connelly and Healy said they couldn't comment on whether a ranger knew about shots fired, as the Martin family reported, saying that's part of the Douglas County sheriff's investigation.

Recreational shooting is permitted on 94 percent of the 3.1 million acres of the Pike and San Isabel national forests and the Cimarron and Comanche national grasslands.

"We've got the brochure that shows specific restrictions. But everyplace else, it's allowed provided they follow the basic rules," Healy said.

Rules prohibit shooting from or across a road or near trails, and they require target shooters to aim toward manufactured targets placed against "an earthen backstop" or hill.

Shooting live trees is off-limits, as is hauling trash into the forests for target practice.

But shooting in banned areas is common, Healy said.

The Forest Service closed the unsupervised South Rampart Shooting Range in Pike National Forest in July 2009 after Otis Freison, 25, of Aurora died in an accidental shooting there.

The range, on Rampart Range Road above Garden of the Gods, was plagued by litter, drinking and safety issues.

In early 2013, the outdoor Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex opened to the public on Fort Carson "because there was a need for recreational shooting away from . Rampart Range," manager Robbie Rohren said. "It's not just the loss of life, which is a tragedy, but the other part of that is they're ruining beautiful areas."

Other Colorado Springs shooting ranges include the Magnum Shooting Center and the Whistling Pines Gun Club, both indoor ranges, and the Pikes Peak Gun Club.

The nonprofit Trails and Open Space Coalition is divided regarding guns on public lands, including policies allowing open carry in El Paso County and Colorado Springs parks, Executive Director Susan Davies said. But the organization favored the closure on Mount Herman, Davies said.

"When you saw what they were doing to those trees, it was just disgusting," she said. "Plus the waste they were leaving there - it was just a war zone."

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