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SALT LAKE CITY — The state forester is expected to announce later today that target practice will be temporarily banned in some areas of Utah due to extreme fire danger.
"We're planning on doing that," Dick Buehler, the state forester from the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands told KSL Tuesday morning. "In fact, (we've been) working with the counties that are interested in doing that for the past few days."
So far, five counties have asked for some sort of restrictions, but Buehler did not name the counties prior to the expected announcement.
"We're not going to do a blanket closure across the whole state," Buehler said. Last month he pointed out that state law protects people's rights to possess and utilize guns legally.
"We're only going to close areas that are highly susceptible to fires by target shooting or where we've had fires caused by target shooting in the past few months," he said.
Buehler said his office is working on an interactive map that will allow people to click on a specific area of the state and see specific restrictions.
We're only going to close areas that are highly susceptible to fires by target shooting or where we've had fires caused by target shooting in the past few months.
Of the nearly 500 Utah wildfires this year, 21 have been blamed on target shooters. The fires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres. In recent weeks there have been as many as nine active wildfires burning in the state.
Buehler admits it's been an incredibly busy year so far for fires, after four years with not much of a fire season. He estimates the state has spent about $30 million so far this year fighting fires, but it could take months to tally up the total cost.
"We have a couple of million dollars to start out with," he explained. "Then we go to the Legislature with a supplemental appropriation request. They give us the funds to cover the cost of the fires that we've already spent during the fire season."
Also, the federal government helps absorb the cost of fires that burned on federal land. To qualify for a FEMA grant, which will cover 75 percent of the fire costs, the fire must have imminently threatened at least 100 homes and evacuations must have been enacted. Under those criteria, five fires qualify for grants this year. In previous years, the state has had a maximum of three fires that qualified for the federal grant.
In announcing a target shooting ban, Buehler has authority over unincorporated, private and state lands, but not over federal lands.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero