Community conversations progress on target shooting within popular state forests

Some conversations are hard to have and more often than not it seems anything gun-related falls into that category.

But sometimes being responsible means talking about uncomfortable things. That acknowledgment, a growing number of homes near state lands, and more people out enjoying the landscapes leading to more conflicts between recreationists (including target shooting) has led DNR to begin a series of public meetings. Their “aim” is to find out more about how target shooting, a legal and popular recreation activity on these state lands, is working in relationship to other forest activities in some of the agency’s most popular recreation areas: Capitol, Tahuya, Harry Osborne and Yacolt Burn state forests.

Currently, target shooting is allowed during the day on most DNR-managed lands in areas with an unobstructed, earth backstop that can safely stop all bullets. No shooting is permitted across, along or down roads or trails or within 500 feet of a recreation site or structure. Shooters are also urged to pack out all shells, brass, paper and other debris. Yet, many target shooters will be the first to tell you that despite this, there are still issues.

The first meeting, held in Belfair near Tahuya State Forest, offered the community and forest visitors the chance to weigh in with their views. Recreation staff wanted to hear how the public felt DNR staff could best offer opportunities for target shooting, without endangering the public or restricting other vital uses of state lands.

After reviewing maps, listening to a presentation and asking questions, about 80 attendees broke into smaller groups to go through a series of subjects designed to explore issues, preferences and what ideas might work best – including feedback on how to keep those interested informed. The evening wrapped up with verbal group reports, written comments, and open house-style one-on-one discussions.

Though the topic may have led to a few awkward moments, participation was overall very respectful and productive.  There seemed to be support for DNR’s willingness to take this first step, hearing how locals and users feel it’s currently going.

DNR recreation staff are inviting other target shooters, recreationists, nearby homeowners and general public to join more evening discussions coming up in Vancouver (May 31), Burlington (June 1) and Olympia (June 2).

Whatever solutions may evolve, they don’t have to be similar across the four forests. Staff expect to hear different things in each community, and acknowledge that what may be good for one state forest may not be good for another. Next steps may differ as well– there’s no tidy formula for a topic like this one. So, much about any future process will depend on the public’s feedback.

It’s not an easy discussion, but staff anticipate good participation anyway. There’s a history of success for finding solutions between recreation users, and staff expect no less on this topic.