Fire concerns prompt closure of Byers Canyon Rifle Range | SkyHiNews.com

Fire concerns prompt closure of Byers Canyon Rifle Range

With serious wildfires raging across the Colorado High Country this month, state officials are looking to mitigate the potential for future fire outbreaks leading to last week's closure of shooting ranges across the northwestern portion of the state.

Officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced plans July 4 to close over half-a-dozen state-managed shooting ranges between the Continental Divide and the Utah state border specifically citing the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt, which was caused by the firing of tracer rounds at the Basalt State Wildlife Area Shooting Range, according to officials.

Grand County's Byers Canyon Rifle Range is one of seven state managed shooting ranges that will be closed until fire officials determine an appropriate time to reopen the facilities. Along with Byers Canyon and the Basalt Shooting Range Parks and Wildlife has also closed the Plateau Creek State Wildlife Area shooting range and the Cameo Temporary Shooting Range in Mesa County, the West Rifle Creek State Wildlife Area shooting range in Garfield County and the Hayden Range and Yampa Range in Routt County.

Lyle Sidener, area wildlife manager for Parks and Wildlife based out of Hot Sulphur Springs, said the decision to close the rifle range in Grand County, as well as the other ranges across northwestern Colorado, was done out of an abundance of caution. Sidener noted the rounds that sparked the Lake Christine Fire, tracer rounds, are illegal but said agency officials are concerned about violations at state managed ranges, which are not typically supervised by agency officials.

Grand County has seen several fires ignited at the Byers Canyon Rifle Range over the past decade. A series of three wildland fires were ignited at the range west of Byers Canyon between October 2010 and June 2012 all connected to tracer ammunition. In 2015, the Byers Canyon Rifle Range Fire burned close to 600 acres and threatened the town of Hot Sulphur Springs after a .223 full metal jacket round struck a rock and ignited brush in the area. Last August, firefighters quickly suppressed a fire at the rifle range that was also caused by target practice.

"As extreme drought conditions are affecting the region, discussion had begun regarding closures of ranges in the area," representatives from Parks and Wildlife stated. "While no formal requests have been made to change management policies or operation of CPW shooting ranges, the agency has made the decision to close all CPW-managed ranges in the Northwest Region to public use until further notice."

Sidener said Parks and Wildlife has no set date regarding when Byers Canyon Rifle Range, or any of the other impacted shooting ranges, will reopen to the public. Any reopening will be totally dependent upon conditions in the area. Sidener said the agency is well aware of the approaching big game hunting seasons this fall and potential impacts range closures could have on hunters if drought conditions and severe fire danger persists.

"Obviously that is a concern of ours," Sidener said. "Between now and then we will probably develop a contingency plan but right now we are more concerned about fire danger."