USA –-Here’s news that may start a firestorm: Officials say gunfire has ignited some wildfires in the bone-dry West, and some states are limiting outdoor shooting to reduce fire risk.
Target shooting or other firearms have started at least 21 wildfires in Utah and nearly a dozen in Idaho, the Associated Press says. Gunfire has also been cited for causing wildfires in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Washington.
But as officials seek to limit outdoor shooting or ammunition, they are running up against a formidable force: the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, is taking heat for authorizing restrictions on target shooting on state and county land after it was determined that gunfire started one blaze. Officials were deciding today how to impose the politically charged ban in some areas because of the fire risk, the Salt Lake Tribune says. A decision is expected soon.
“This does not abridge anybody’s constitutional right to bear firearms,” Herbert said. “But we’re facing a serious fire season, and the state forester has the authority to limit [shooting] in unincorporated areas.”
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has limited target-shooting hours at the 114,150-acre Wenas Wildlife Area after shooters started a fire June 23 that burned seven acres. From now through Sept. 30, target shooting is allowed only from sunrise to 11 a.m.
AP explains the numbers of gunfire-caused fires:
Statistics on wildfires caused by firearms are incomplete because the federal government does not list “shooting” as a cause on its fire reports. But some officials write in “target” or “shoot” as a cause, said Jennifer Jones of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
On land managed by the U.S. Forest Service only, the center found 17 such wildfires in 2010, 28 last year and 13 so far this year.
This year, the Bureau of Land Management said 11 of 31 wildfires it has battled in Idaho have been sparked by shooting activities.
The Salt Lake Tribune writes the state has experienced more than 400 wildfires this year, with “more than a dozen linked to discharging firearms.” Here’s background on one of them, the Millville fire.
Nevada authorities say a spark from a shooting range apparently ignited a 6-square-mile wildfire that damaged power transmission lines between Ely and McGill.
Gun-rights advocates have doubts that firearms are responsible for so many fires.
“I don’t know how much of a problem it really is,” said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Sports Shooting Council. He estimated that target shooter may be responsible for perhaps 5% of wildfires in the state this year.
In a later statement to CBS News, the shooting group said, “We may concede that the improper acts of some shooters may have in fact caused fires, but to impugn all shooters and the sport is to demonize an activity that is safely done by tens of thousands of Utahns every week.”
MSNBC notes some of the other causes of wildfires: lightning, campfires, cigarettes, car crashes, ATVs, climate change, trains and railroad saws.
Utah officials say sparks from steel-jacketed bullets striking rocks have ignited the dry, surrounding vegetation. They also blame target that explode when hit.
Officials are recommending shooters use lead bullets because they don’t spark, although they pose poisoning dangers to wildlife and the environment.
“We’re not trying to pull away anyone’s right to bear arms. I want to emphasize that,” Louinda Downs, a county commissioner in fire-prone Davis County, Utah, told AP. “We’re just saying target practice in winter. Target practice on the gun range.
“When your pleasure hobby is infringing or threatening someone else’s right to have property or life, shouldn’t we be able to somehow have some authority so we can restrict that?”
Update at 8:47 p.m. ET: The Utah State Forester has announced restrictions on target shooting and ammunition, along with limits on various other actions that could cause wildfires, The Herald Journal reports.
The bans, which apply to land, roads and trails in unincorporated areas of the state, take effect Wednesday at 12:01 a.m. MT.
The state is prohibiting the firing of steel-jacketed or steel-core ammunition, tracer ammunition and on using exploding targets. Limits are also being placed on smoking and open fires, along with cutting, welding or grinding metal.
The state’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands said only incorporated cities and towns are exempt, along with those with permits for the prohibited actions.