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Survey of Los Padres National Forest Turns Up Damage, Debris from Unmanaged Target Shooting

ForestWatch report identifies nearly 100 sites fouled by spent bullets and shells, as well as trash piles that include an abandoned grand piano

Shotgun shells and other debris pile up at a target shooting site in Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara.
Shotgun shells and other debris pile up at a target shooting site in Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara. (Los Padres ForestWatch photo)

Target shooters are fouling Los Padres National Forest, according to an advocacy group’s report that identified 94 sites littered with shotgun shells, lead bullets and assorted trash.

Los Padres ForestWatch conducted the study over several years before releasing the results last week. The nonprofit organization, which works to preserve the national forest and the Carrizo Plain, is calling on the U.S. Forest Service to move toward banning target shooting except at a few locations.

“Since the report came out we’ve heard from target shooters and members of the public, and all are telling us something needs to be done,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of ForestWatch. “The status quo is not working.”​

The survey of the forest found piles of old televisions, propane canisters, refrigerators, couches, computers and even a grand piano.

In addition to thousands of bullet casings and shells, volunteers spotted damaged and dead trees due to repeated shooting.

“Nearly a half-century after forest officials first identified ‘pure wanton acts of destruction’ in the Los Padres, the effects of unmanaged target shooting have increased dramatically, spreading to all corners of the forest,” the report said.

“Unmanaged target shooting is now one of the most widespread threats facing the Los Padres National Forest.”

The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t disagree with the findings, spokesman Andrew Madsen said.

“We’ve been working with all groups to alleviate all the impacts around target shooting,” said Madsen, who added that a volunteer cleanup is planned this spring.

Enforcing any shooting bans throughout the forest would take more personnel and funding.

“It’s not the legal target shooters we have issues with,” Madsen said.

Televisions and computers are among the targets used by recreational shooters in Los Padres National Forest near Ojai. Click to view larger
Televisions and computers are among the targets used by recreational shooters in Los Padres National Forest near Ojai. (Los Padres ForestWatch photo)

He said the forest service already has regulations prohibiting shooting at trees, near roads and close to bodies of water.

Dispersed target shooting throughout the forest is allowed as long as it is done in a responsible manner, he added.

ForestWatch representatives say Los Padres officials should follow the lead set by other national forests — such as Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino — that have banned dispersed target shooting as included in a 2005 management plan.

“We also encourage the forest service to designate a limited number of target shooting ranges that are formally managed under permit,” the ForestWatch report said. “Volunteer trash cleanups and remediation of contaminated sites will also be needed.”

“The key there is well managed,” Kuyper added.

According to the study, the Mount Pinos Ranger District in Ventura and Kern counties had the highest concentration of dispersed shooting sites — 43 in all.

The district also had “the highest concentration of zombies, skeletons and other creepy targets,” the report noted.

The Santa Lucia Ranger District in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties had 27 dispersed shooting sites.

Twelve sites were found in the Santa Barbara Ranger District, which includes the Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area along Paradise Road off Highway 154 and the Upper Santa Ynez Recreation Area off East Camino Cielo.

“Our surveys revealed an epidemic of target shooting debris and damage across the forest,” the ForestWatch report concluded. “We identified 94 shooting sites culminating in dozens of acres of trash, hazardous materials, vandalized infrastructure and damaged natural resources.

“Many of these shooting sites are within footsteps of fragile waterways and popular campgrounds, trails and recreational hotspots.”

Target shooting also caused nine fires between 1995 and 2016 at the Glass Factory site off East Camino Cielo above Santa Barbara, the report said.

The survey also noted concerns regarding poisoning of wildlife due to trash, lead bullets and hazardous electronic waste.

The accumulation of lead ammunition can lead to contamination of soil and water, the report said.

Cleanup efforts are just a temporary fix, Kuyper said, adding that garbage returns days after volunteers remove items from the affected areas.

“There are just so many sites it would take an entire army of volunteers to go up there and make a dent in this problem,” he said.

On Tuesday, a group of volunteers from Lush Cosmetics collected 400 pounds of trash near a target shooting site off the now-closed Middle Sespe trail. Their haul included shards of glass, remnants of a bedframe, metal plates full of bullet holes, and a Guitar Hero guitar that had been shot to pieces, ForestWatch representatives said.

After the report’s release, Kuyper said, responsible recreational target shooters commented on social media that they share the concerns.

“They don’t want to see this tarnish the entire target shooting population,” he said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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