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Dry conditions may curtail recreational shooting

Agency looks for feedback on rules in Tillamook Forest this summer

After extinguishing three fires in the Tillamook State Forest caused by shooting in recent weeks, Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) officials are considering curbing the popular forest activity.

Forest Grove District Forester Mike Cafferata and the rest of his ODF co-workers in Forest Grove are deciding whether educating the public about the fire danger associated with shooting will be enough to prevent wildfires — or whether they’ll have to put restrictions in place.

Local landowners and recreational target shooters have contacted Cafferata and their opinions on the matter have matched up: if there’s such a high fire danger, the ODF should restrict shooting on forestland.

“Our fire danger is at record levels for this time of year and is getting worse as we head into a weekend of hot, dry weather,” Cafferata said Monday. “These are conditions we normally see in August, just before humidity rises and fire danger is reduced.”

Right now Cafferata is asking people not to shoot in the forest after 1 p.m. because humidity drops during the day and very fine fuels dry out more. At night humidity rises and fine fuels gain moisture.

A 2013 study conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service tested the potential of rifle bullets igniting organic matter. Peat moisture contents of 3 to 5 percent and air temperatures above 98 degrees Fahrenheit seemed to be necessary for ignitions. When the peat moisture content was above 8 percent, nothing caught on fire.

“Field conditions matching the experimental range would imply summertime temperatures, as well as solar heating of the ground surface and organic matter to produce a drier and warmer microclimate where bullet fragments are deposited,” the study explained.

Cafferata and other ODF foresters are especially concerned this year because of the unusually dry spring and the hot weather this past week, with temperatures forecast in the 90- to 100-degree range at least through Sunday.

Fine-grained matter such as peat was more likely to catch on fire when copper or steel bullets were used. Lead bullets were less likely to cause a problem. Steel and copper bullets produced larger fragments than steel and they also require more heat to expel.

ODF officials are also asking shooters to only shoot into a backstop of mineral soil, and to always carry a working fire extinguisher or shovel and water on forestland. They also recommended that shooters check the target area for any signs of fire after shooting.

Fires started from smoldering material can be tricky to prevent because they may take days, even weeks, to fully ignite. “Where the target is exposed to wind, a smoldering ignition in litter or duff may be ventilated easily and ignite grasses or surface litter and become visible more quickly than an area sheltered by trees or terrain,” the study said.

The three recent fires damaged nearly 70 acres and cost about $100,000 to extinguish. Last year’s 36 Pit Fire in Clackamas County started from recreational target shooting in a rock pit. That fire burned 5,500 acres and cost millions of dollars to contain.

The Oregon Department of Forestry is considering prohibiting recreational target shooting while fire-prone conditions exist.

Some considerations include a prohibition on recreational target shooting after 1 p.m.; a complete prohibition on recreational target shooting until conditions moderate; and waivers only for landowners who have fire safe locations.

These potential restrictions would take place in the Northwest Oregon Forest Protective Association, which includes forestland north of Highway 18 outside McMinnville, including the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests.

To offer feedback, call 503-357-2191 or email Mike Cafferata at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..