EVERGREEN — Citing increased danger in a heavily populated region, the U.S. Forest Service is floating a plan to restrict recreational shooting to designated areas in a 625-square-mile swath of land that covers most of Colorado's Front Range foothills and Interstate 70 corridor.
The federal proposal includes opening more approved shooting ranges and could be put to public comment within weeks. But some officials in Colorado are pushing back, saying the plan is overly broad. It deals with the so-called wildland-urban interface zone, which was mapped in 2008 for wildfire-fighting purposes and has between two and 16 homes per acre.
Tom Ford, a Forest Service planning and design staffer, said 50 percent to 75 percent of the land is close enough to homes, roads and campgrounds that shooting already is illegal there. Agency rules say it's illegal to shoot in an "unsafe area" near homes or people, he said.
The amount of public land being discussed is "a little staggering," Clear Creek County Commissioner Tim Mauck told a recent ad-hoc group working on the proposal, according to Canyon Courier newspaper.
"I worry about how we're balancing everything," he said.
Ford said restricting use of public land is not tradition.
"But look at this map, and there are houses all over. How do you balance it?" the Forest Service official said.
Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife officials prefer that the federal agency come up with alternative areas for shooters before discussing any large-scale closure.
"We're all working together on this, but when the recreational shooting public sees it, they're going to get outraged very quickly," said Steve Yamashita, the department's acting director.
The ad-hoc group is trying to determine when to put the plan out for public comment.
Kathy Hinkle, a spokeswoman for Idaho Springs' Clear Creek County Sportsmen Club, said she supported the idea of more designated ranges but wants more details on the plan.
"Not knowing how large the area is, it's difficult to say anything," Hinkle said. "(But) as someone who likes to do this kind of activity, I think the more public areas we have, the better."
In Clear Creek County, complaints in recent years about shooting have centered near Squaw Pass close to Mount Evans and the Barbour Fork Trailhead south of Idaho Springs.
Forest Service officials recently closed a shooting area near the base of Mount Evans after an increasing number of shooters mowed down trees with gunfire, Penny Wu, a Forest Service ranger for the Clear Creek Ranger District, told the Courier.
"There's not a safe backstop down here," Wu said. "Live trees are just blown apart. It sets the stage for a lot of user conflicts and unsafe shooting."