The U.S. Forest Service has announced that it will extend for another six months a ban on unmanaged target shooting throughout the Los Padres National Forest. The ban—first announced in January 2019—allows forest officials and volunteers to address the proliferation of litter, soil and water contamination, wildfires, vandalism, impacts to endangered wildlife, and other environmental and public safety hazards caused by decades of unmanaged target shooting across nearly two million acres of public lands in Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and western Kern counties.
The ban only applies to unmanaged target shooting. Legal hunting with a valid license is not affected, and target shooting can continue at the Ojai Valley Gun Club and the Winchester Canyon Gun Club, both of which are staffed and operated by nonprofit organizations permitted by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service’s announcement cites “increasingly high fire danger conditions in the extended weather forecast and the potential for a wildfire sparked by shooting” as the primary justification for extending the ban. The Forest Service recently identified more than 140 informal target shooting sites throughout the Los Padres National Forest, and investigators have blamed shooting for causing at least 53 wildfires in the forest, scorching a combined 74,478 acres of forestland according to a release from Los Padres ForestWatch (LPFW).
The announcement also comes as the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are completing a study on the impacts of unmanaged target shooting on rare and endangered plants and animals. The agencies agreed to conduct the study to partially resolve a lawsuit filed by LPFW in 2018. LPFW is represented in the lawsuit by Earthrise Law Center and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC). That study, resulting in the release of a biological opinion, is expected to be complete by March of this year.
Three other national forests in Southern California have similar, permanent, bans in place. The Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forests have prohibited target shooting outside of formally designated shooting sites for decades.
“Today’s announcement will continue to provide our public lands with a much-needed respite from the ongoing threat of wildfire posed by unregulated target shooting,” said ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper.
“Every day that unmanaged target shooting is prevented in the Los Padres National Forest is a good day for the environment,” said EDC attorney Maggie Hall. “We applaud this Forest Service action, but there is much more that needs to be done, and we will continue to work to ensure that our wild lands, clean water and wildlife are protected from this destructive practice.”
In addition to the two permitted shooting sites in the Los Padres National Forest that remain open, shooters can practice their marksmanship at more than two dozen indoor and outdoor ranges located less than an hour’s drive away. An interactive map of these ranges can be viewed at LPFW.org/where-to-shoot or wheretoshoot.org courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
According to the Forest Service website, “Law Enforcement Officers will be strictly enforcing this Forest Order in all areas of the Forest.” Individuals cited for violating the ban will face a mandatory appearance in U.S. District Court, where the judge can levy fines of up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail.