COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The U.S. Forest Service is responding to a growing concern about the unsafe use of firearms by people who engage in recreational target shooting (also known as sport shooting) in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest.
Sport shooting is allowed on national forest land, except in areas near high concentrations of people and traffic.
However, the Forest Service said that there have been too many complaints from forest neighbors, residents and visitors about gunfire and bullets dangerously close to people, homes, pets and livestock -- and even fires that have ignited from irresponsible shooting.
Trash, destroyed targets, litter and other debris have accumulated at some shooting areas.
In 2009, an accidental shooting death led to the closing of a popular shooting range on Rampart Range Road, In El Paso County; more recently, the Forest Service said that a camper near the Rainbow Falls Trailhead north of Woodland Park, near the Teller-Douglas County line, was killed in the presence of family after being struck by a stray bullet fired from the forest.
The Forest Service proposes establishing a developed, safely-designed shooting area in each of the forest's three ranger districts, and closing some forest areas where shooting is currently allowed.
"They will be more developed than we've seen," said Carl Bauer, district ranger for the Forest Service. "They will be very well-thought out, designed and engineered -- such that it will provide opportunities within that facility."
One of the nearest proposed locations to Colorado Springs is the popular Turkey Track shooting area, ten miles north of Woodland Park, along Highway 67 in Douglas County.
At two public hearings on the proposal last month, some gun owners expressed concern about the area being too far to travel for shooting, and about having more restrictions and fewer places to shoot.
"We've had an influx of both people and recreating in the national forest, people living in the national forest and people trying to find a safe place to do recreational target practice in the national forest," Bauer said.
Residents in the area Tuesday said that they like the proposal.
"We're concerned all around the line on this road (Teller County 78) about stray bullets coming in," said homeowner Melody Balogh. "I have two animals out all the time. I'm concerned about that. I've heard my neighbor a couple of doors down, they've had stray bullets. I'd like to move all shooting away from our residential area right here."
Rick Caple, of Colorado Springs, was four-wheeling near Turkey Track.
"We drove by those No Shooting signs, and they all have holes in them," he said. "I think (the proposal would) be safer because people aren't responsible any more. They're not paying attention to their fields of fire and what's behind them. And if you're not paying attention, then someone's going to get hurt."
The Forest Service has extended the public comment period on the proposal until Dec. 28. For more information and to submit feedback, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57807 .
Bauer said that if the proposal becomes reality, the Forest Service will closely monitor how it works -- and if it doesn't, stronger restrictions could follow.
"That could include always having someone present and charging a small fee," he said. "That could require our partners, and others, to help fund and manage these sites. But that's not our intention right off the bat."