Gunfire Causes Forest Fires … Yet another reason that hunting and shooting have to go

In the tinder-dry western half of the United States, and during a year that has seen record-breaking droughts in many parts of the country, one would think that government officials would ban any sort of recreational activity that might start forest fires – or “wildfires,” as authorities now call them.

One of the activities that can be clamped down on is camping. This seemingly harmless pastime can lead to a catastrophic blaze when inexperienced or careless campers fail to sufficiently douse their campfires. Other known origins of fires are car backfire and vehicular accidents. Smokers have been known to cause brush fires with a recklessly tossed cigarette butt. Demented thrill-seekers certainly have been arsonists on too many occasions to mention; and sometimes they are caught and brought to justice. Lightning can also be a culprit, possibly the only “natural” villain we can blame.

However, there is one other cause of fires that many people do not consider, and that officialdom is not doing enough to address: hunters and “recreational” shooters. You know, those who go out into “the wilderness” not to enjoy nature but to kill wildlife, or even just to shoot at stationary targets (remember the Saguaros from two issues ago? If not, visit: These guys have been doing tremendous damage, of course to the individual animals they kill and maim, but also by destroying millions of acres of land when sparks from their guns ignite a blaze. They also indirectly cause long-lasting pollution when firefighters and airplanes spray and drop harmful chemicals on the fires to try to slow them down.

The fact that gunfire causes forest fires has been recognized by no less than the oft-intransigent Bureau of Land Management. Not known for their consideration of the right of wild animals to live unmolested, the BLM does at least admit that the discharge of firearms has caused numerous conflagrations, as much as a third of all fires on lands they manage.

This year alone, 11 of 31 Idaho wildfires were set off by shooters. (USA Today, 7/3/12) Utah reportedly had 21 of their recent fires started by firearms. In one national forest in Arizona alone, gunfire was shown to have caused seven fires in 2010, ten in 2011, and five so far in 2012. (CBS) New Mexico, Washington, California, and Colorado have all had calamitous fires this year. Can we ever know how many of them could have been prevented, how much suffering could have been spared for wildlife and humans alike, if only shooting of all sorts had been banned in wild lands?

Not that all officials have ignored this matter. Recognizing the gun connection, the Republican Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, did authorize restrictions for target shooting on state and county lands (not on hunting, unfortunately), but he came under metaphorical fire himself for daring to challenge the “right” of people to blast away at anything they like. The Second Amendment, as usual, was speciously used to back up the gun nuts’ claim.

Gov. Herbert stated, “This does not abridge anybody’s constitutional right to bear firearms. But we’re facing a serious fire season, and the state forester has the authority to limit [shooting] in unincorporated areas.”

In Washington State, target shooting has been limited because of a gun-caused fire in June.

Other states are attempting to take similar measures. Besides the opposition of hunters and others who claim Constitutional support, the institution of bans is made more difficult by the fact that the federal government does not list shooting as a cause when making out fire reports. This willful blindness to the facts seems outrageous.

Not surprisingly, such persons as the chairman of the Utah Sports Shooting Council downplay the risk of guns causing fires. “I don’t know how much of a problem it really is,” says Clark Aposhian. He guessed that target shooting was responsible for possibly 5% of fires in Utah.

Even if this obviously conservative estimate were accurate, even one fire sparked by shooting is too many. Particularly as this cause of fire is very preventable, if state and national authorities would only be courageous enough to stand up to the NRA and other pro-hunting and -shooting entities.

Louinda Downs, a County Commissioner in Utah, said, “When your pleasure hobby is infringing or threatening someone else’s right to have property or life, shouldn’t we be able to somehow have some authority so we can restrict that?”

A very reasonable question. But unfortunately, neither hunters, nor the proponents of target shooting, are willing to see reason regarding this issue. Unless legislation is passed making it a felony to shoot in wilderness regions, more and more wildfires are likely to take the lives of countless wild animals, and destroy more public lands and private property.

Officials say sparks from steel-jacketed bullets striking rocks have ignited the dry, surrounding vegetation. They also blame targets that explode when hit.

Officials are recommending that shooters use lead bullets because they don’t spark, although they do pose poisoning dangers to wildlife and the environment.

Even though Ms. Downs’ question was posed regarding the threat to human life, we at C.A.S.H. believe the sentiment should extend to wildlife’s right to live unthreatened by guns and gun-caused fires, as well.

Every citizen who wishes to help prevent the terrible fires caused by hunters and other shooters should lobby their representatives at every level to pass legislation making it a felony to discharge a firearm on public land, for any reason.

E.M. Fay is Assoc. Editor of the C.A.S.H. Courier, a publication of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting.



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