The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) announced Monday that it would temporarily restrict recreational firearm shooting at wildlife management areas throughout central and northern Utah after a wildfire ignited by target shooters burned wildlife habitat in Cache County.

The restriction, effective immediately as of Monday, temporarily prohibits target shooting at 17 wildlife management areas, or WMAs, — including the Middle Fork WMA in Weber County; Coldwater and Brigham Face WMAs in Box Elder County; and East Canyon WMA in Morgan County — “until fire conditions improve,” the DWR announced in a press release.

“The temporary restriction comes less than one week after people who were target shooting at the Richmond WMA in Cache County — shooting a .50-caliber rifle at a metal target — ignited a fire that burned 2 acres of wildlife habitat,” the state wildlife division said. “A bullet ricochet was also the likely cause of the 438-acre Big Hollow Fire that burned near Heber City in mid-July, according to officials investigating the incident.”

The Big Hollow Fire burned “several hundred acres” of the Wallsburg WMA in Wasatch County, the DWR said.

After record-dry spring and winter seasons throughout nearly all of the state, Utah is experiencing one of its busiest wildfire seasons in recent years.

“We had 73 new starts last week alone, Kaitlyn Webb, a wildfire communication specialist with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said in a wildfire update video on Aug. 5. “And we’ve had 951 wildfires reported to our five interagency dispatch centers statewide as of Aug. 2, with a total of 186,000 acres burned, approximately.”

“Taking a closer look at the human-caused statistics, we’ve had 712 wildfires started by humans,” continued Webb. “That accounts for 75% of our total wildfires this year. For comparison, we had only had 379 human-caused starts (in 2019) and only 510 during 2018 at this time.”

There also has been an increase in wildfires started by target shooting, according to the DWR, which said the 28 target shooting-caused fires have cost the state nearly $1 million.

“With the dry conditions, any spark can start a fire,” DWR Northern Region Habitat Manager Scott Walker said in the press release. “With firearm shooting, sparks from metal targets aren’t the only threat — a bullet or other projectile glancing off a rock is all it takes to cause a spark and a fire.”

Some target shooting restrictions already have been implemented in Utah County due to wildfire dangers.

On June 23, wildfire officials announced a two-week restriction on target shooting involving exploding targets and steel core, jacketed or tipped ammunition in the area west of Utah Lake about 4,500 feet of elevation, including Lake Mountain and West Mountain.

A week earlier, Utah Fire Info tweeted that the Lincoln Fire near Utah Lake “was ignited by target shooting hitting an exploding target over dry vegetation.”

“Target shooting in general, and the exploding targets, has been a huge concern and a big issue,” Webb from Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands told the Daily Herald in June. “Utah County is one of the areas that we have seen a number of wildfires start by exploding targets.”

Target shooting is still allowed on dozens of private and public shooting ranges throughout the state, including the DWR-managed Cache Valley Public Shooting Range in Logan and Lee Kay Public Shooting Range in Salt Lake City. For a list of indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, visit http://wildlife.utah.gov/utah-shooting-ranges.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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