Some in AZ want shooting ban 2 be extended 2 include hunting

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Extend shooting ban in Tonto, residents ask.

Thomas Ropp, The Arizona Republic

Feb. 04, 2002

A 6-month-old ban on recreational shooting in portions of the Tonto National Forest has drawn praise from forest officials, but many residents who live near forest boundaries feel the restrictions don't go far enough.




They want to ban hunters as well as those who shoot for fun.

In August, about 80,000 of Tonto's 2.9 million acres were closed to recreational shooters. The restricted area includes the Cave Creek and Mesa Ranger districts near burgeoning residential developments in Carefree, Scottsdale, Mesa and Apache Junction.

They came after years of complaints by residents, as well as hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers, all-terrain-vehicle riders and other groups who didn't feel safe sharing the forest with gun enthusiasts.

Ed Perault, a Forest Service planner, said the ban has been "very effective." There is less litter from target shooters and fewer calls to his office from angry residents, he said.

Paul Libby of the Mesa Ranger District has also noted a decrease in broken glass from target shooters and silence in places where there used to be an interminable pop, pop, pop.

Libby said hunters were not included in the ban because they tend to be more responsible than recreational shooters and have a greater awareness of safety issues.

"Hunters are certified and have to have training," he said.

Terry Allison, president of the National Rifle Association's Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, said his group opposes the ban. The Forest Service should apply the same rules to everyone, then go after the small percentage of shooters who misuse forest resources, he said.

"Anyone with the price of a hunting license can get one," Allison said. "I have witnessed as many slob hunters as slob shooters."

Horse ranch owner Todd Masden agrees.

"I've worked with hunters for years and have never found that they were a whole lot more responsible," he said.

Masden's ranch borders the forest at Lone Mountain and 144th Street near Scottsdale. He and his wranglers operate Cave Creek Outfitters and give daily guided horseback tours into the Tonto. He said shooting is still a problem in prohibited areas.

"I've had hunters actually shooting birds on my property and had their shotgun pellets pepper the top of my barn," Masden said.

But Joe Janisch, spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said it's unfair to lump hunters with recreational shooters.

"Hunting isn't wildcatting," Janisch said. "There's a focus. You aren't just shooting ammo to shoot ammo. When I hunt quail, if I pull the trigger three times in four hours I'm lucky."

Others who live around the Tonto National Forest say the Forest Service is taking a step in the right direction but that much more needs to be done to keep gunfire away from communities.

Nena Henry, past president of the Rio Verde Horsemen's Association, said she and others in her organization have experienced bullets whizzing by them while riding forest trails.

Carol Owens of Mesa said she's not opposed to guns and has been known to pack one herself. But she said "it's creepy" riding an all-terrain cycle in the Mesa Ranger District.

"Sounds like (war)," Owens said. "It's a wonder there haven't been people hurt. If you rode a buckskin colored horse back there, you'd get shot for a deer."

Mesa Councilman Bill Jaffa heads a citizens advisory group called Friends of the Tonto that investigates user conflicts. He said it was "a little upsetting" when he toured the Mesa Ranger District last month with forest personnel and came across people engaged in an illegal game of paintball shooting.

"What was really disconcerting is they had just shot the signs that say no shooting allowed," Jaffa said.

The paintballers, like most shooting offenders, were given a warning. But forest officials say the grace period is nearing an end and soon stiff fines, as high as $5,000, will be enforced by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.

Allison of the Arizona Rifle Association said he would like the Forest Service to set aside a "shoot only" area for recreational shooters as was promised but not delivered.

"As it stands now, they are simply forcing shooters to go to other areas of the Tonto, which might be more pristine and less suitable for shooting," he said.

Perault said the Forest Service is working on a master plan that could eventually restrict other user groups to give fragile forest ecosystems a chance to mend.

Forest Service spokesman Jim Payne said both the Cave Creek and Mesa Ranger Districts have seen an increase of more than 25 percent in recreational use in the past five years, higher in areas that border residential development. Hunters, motocross bikers and ATV operators have been the fastest-growing user groups, according to Payne.


Reach the reporter at thomas.ropp@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-6880.
 

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