Target shooters take note: from May 6 through July 31 there’s no recreational shooting of firearms within the Tonto National Forest -- and that includes air rifles and gas-guns, too. The fire-prevention prohibition extends to the Coronado and Prescott National Forests during Arizona’s parched, hot months when dried grasses are at their most flammable -- and wildfire most dangerous. The website wildfiretoday.com and forest firefighters with Arizona Interagency Wildfire Prevention (wildlandfire.az.gov) list numerous devastating blazes sparked by irresponsible target shooting, occasionally even sparked by ‘tracer rounds or exploding targets,’ despite both being prohibited on federal public lands in Arizona year-round.
Wildflowers and blooms during February and March were beautiful, but generous winter rains and above-average moisture nourished extreme fuel loads of perennial grasses and annual plants. Factor-in the current pandemic, and assembling wildland firefighters engaging in suppression efforts becomes a public health concern. Under this restriction, discharging of a firearm, air rifle, or gas gun, except while engaged in a lawful hunt, is prohibited on the listed national forests, to reduce wildfires and to protect the health and safety of employees and communities.
“The decision to implement a shooting restriction is driven by amplified risk of wildfire in areas increasingly vulnerable to drying conditions combined with the likely resource shortage due to COVID-19 mitigation within our fire organization,” said Acting Regional Forester Elaine Kohrman. “This restriction also attempts to reduce smoke emissions that compromise first responder and public respiratory health.”
The Coronado, Prescott, and Tonto National Forests have a history of shooting related fires. Current conditions, in addition to the global pandemic, indicate that shooting will lead to shooting-caused fires if these preventive measures are not taken. Within the last two weeks alone, these forests have experienced seven wildland fires likely caused by recreational shooting, resulting in hundreds of acres burned. As a reminder, in accordance with 36 CFR 261.5(b), tracer and incendiary rounds are prohibited on National Forest System Lands. Additionally, exploding targets and fireworks are prohibited on all National Forests and Grasslands located in the Southwestern Region per Order #03-00-00-19-001 dated June 30, 2019.
The following is prohibited under the May 6 shooting restriction order:
• Discharging of a firearm, air rifle, or gas gun, except while engaged in a lawful hunt.
Violating the shooting restriction may result in an appearance in federal court, fines, or other penalties. Forest visitors will still be able to engage in lawful hunting activities. While these restrictions are in place, most of the Coronado, Prescott, and Tonto National Forests are still open for dispersed recreation activities to include hunting, camping and hiking.
Visit the Interactive Visitor Map at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/ivm for more information on available activities. For additional information on COVID-19, go to https://www.coronavirus.gov. Information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is available at www.usda.gov/coronavirus. Information on public lands use in Arizona is available at https://tourism.az.gov/responsible-recreation-across-arizona/