The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
Summer-Fall 2012 Issue
Gunfire Causes Forest Fires
Yet another reason that hunting and shooting have to go
In the tinder-dry western half of the United States, and during a
year that has seen record-breaking droughts in many parts of the
country, one would think that government officials would ban any sort of
recreational activity that might start forest fires – or “wildfires,” as
authorities now call them.
One of the activities that can be clamped down on is camping. This
seemingly harmless pastime can lead to a catastrophic blaze when
inexperienced or careless campers fail to sufficiently douse their
campfires. Other known origins of fires are car backfire and vehicular
accidents. Smokers have been known to cause brush fires with a recklessly
tossed cigarette butt. Demented thrill-seekers certainly have been arsonists
on too many occasions to mention; and sometimes they are caught and brought
to justice. Lightning can also be a culprit, possibly the only “natural”
villain we can blame.
However, there is one other cause of fires that many people do not
consider, and that officialdom is not doing enough to address: hunters and
“recreational” shooters. You know, those who go out into “the wilderness”
not to enjoy nature but to kill wildlife, or even just to shoot at
stationary targets (remember the Saguaros from two issues ago? If not,
These guys have been doing tremendous damage, of course to the individual
animals they kill and maim, but also by destroying millions of acres of land
when sparks from their guns ignite a blaze. They also indirectly cause
long-lasting pollution when firefighters and airplanes spray and drop
harmful chemicals on the fires to try to slow them down.
The fact that gunfire causes forest fires has been recognized by no less
than the oft-intransigent Bureau of Land Management. Not known for their
consideration of the right of wild animals to live unmolested, the BLM does
at least admit that the discharge of firearms has caused numerous
conflagrations, as much as a third of all fires on lands they manage.
This year alone, 11 of 31 Idaho wildfires were set off by shooters. (USA
Today, 7/3/12) Utah reportedly had 21 of their recent fires started by
firearms. In one national forest in Arizona alone, gunfire was shown to have
caused seven fires in 2010, ten in 2011, and five so far in 2012. (CBS) New
Mexico, Washington, California, and Colorado have all had calamitous fires
this year. Can we ever know how many of them could have been prevented, how
much suffering could have been spared for wildlife and humans alike, if only
shooting of all sorts had been banned in wild lands?
Not that all officials have ignored this matter. Recognizing the gun
connection, the Republican Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, did authorize
restrictions for target shooting on state and county lands (not on hunting,
unfortunately), but he came under metaphorical fire himself for daring to
challenge the “right” of people to blast away at anything they like. The
Second Amendment, as usual, was speciously used to back up the gun nuts’
Gov. Herbert stated, “This does not abridge anybody’s constitutional
right to bear firearms. But we’re facing a serious fire season, and the
state forester has the authority to limit [shooting] in unincorporated
In Washington State, target shooting has been limited because of a
gun-caused fire in June.
Other states are attempting to take similar measures. Besides the
opposition of hunters and others who claim Constitutional support, the
institution of bans is made more difficult by the fact that the federal
government does not list shooting as a cause when making out fire reports.
This willful blindness to the facts seems outrageous.
Not surprisingly, such persons as the chairman of the Utah Sports
Shooting Council downplay the risk of guns causing fires. “I don’t know how
much of a problem it really is,” says Clark Aposhian. He guessed that target
shooting was responsible for possibly 5% of fires in Utah.
Even if this obviously conservative estimate were accurate, even one fire
sparked by shooting is too many. Particularly as this cause of fire is very
preventable, if state and national authorities would only be courageous
enough to stand up to the NRA and other pro-hunting and -shooting entities.
Louinda Downs, a County Commissioner in Utah, said, “When your pleasure
hobby is infringing or threatening someone else’s right to have property or
life, shouldn’t we be able to somehow have some authority so we can restrict
A very reasonable question. But unfortunately, neither hunters, nor the
proponents of target shooting, are willing to see reason regarding this
issue. Unless legislation is passed making it a felony to shoot in
wilderness regions, more and more wildfires are likely to take the lives of
countless wild animals, and destroy more public lands and private property.
Officials say sparks from steel-jacketed bullets striking rocks have
ignited the dry, surrounding vegetation. They also blame targets that
explode when hit.
Officials are recommending that shooters use lead bullets because they
don’t spark, although they do pose poisoning dangers to wildlife and the
Even though Ms. Downs’ question was posed regarding the threat to human
life, we at C.A.S.H. believe the sentiment should extend to wildlife’s right
to live unthreatened by guns and gun-caused fires, as well.
Every citizen who wishes to help prevent the terrible fires caused by
hunters and other shooters should lobby their representatives at every level
to pass legislation making it a felony to discharge a firearm on public
land, for any reason.
E.M. Fay is Assoc. Editor of the C.A.S.H. Courier, a publication of the
Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting.
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A Letter to C.A.S.H. about Feral Hogs
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