DENVER – The U.S. Forest Service announced a ban on exploding targets Monday, citing them as a major cause of wildfires.
Shooters who use exploding targets have ignited 16 wildfires since last year, including seven in the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
The ban extends to all national forests and grasslands in those five states.
The public should understand that exploding targets can cause fires, said John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado.
“You don’t want to have on your conscience starting a huge forest fire,” Walsh said.
A month before the Boston Marathon bombings, the FBI warned that commercial “exploding targets” used for recreational rifle shooting could power homemade bombs on American streets.
Exploding targets are legal to buy. They are made in a small canister by mixing dry chemicals that become volatile in each other’s presence. When struck by a bullet, they emit a brief flame and puff of smoke.
Violation of the ban can bring a $5,000 fine and up to six months in prison. But Walsh said he hopes the word gets out and he doesn’t have to prosecute anyone.
Regular target shooting and hunting remain acceptable under Monday’s order. The ban makes an exception for black-powder rifles, although the use of black powder to make a homemade exploding target is not allowed.
Foresters blamed exploding targets for starting 16 fires that cost more than $33 million to fight in the last two fire seasons. The largest in Colorado was the 1,045-acre Springer Gulch Fire in Pike National Forest, which cost $2.7 million to fight.
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s a small thing compared to the potential for loss of life for firefighters and the public,” said Regional Forester Dan Jirón.
Target shooting was initially suspected as a cause of last year’s Weber Fire near Mancos, but a juvenile was later convicted of setting the fire by torching leaves and brush with a lighter.
Although most land managers in Colorado rolled back their fire bans with the arrival of monsoon rains last month, Jirón said the time is right for a ban on exploding targets because the fire season is far from over.
The order will remain in effect for one year, but Jirón expects it to be replaced by a national policy on exploding targets before his ban expires.
The Bureau of Land Management is working on a similar ban on exploding targets.
The Rocky Mountain region is the first in the national forest system to place a ban on exploding targets, but Jirón expects others in the Western United States to impose similar bans.
Jirón said fireworks remain illegal in the national forests.