SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources announced Monday it is temporarily closing target shooting at 17 wildlife management areas in eight central and northern Utah counties due to growing fire threat during an active wildfire season.
Monday’s announcement comes after Utah’s 1,000th fire of the year sparked on Friday. As of Aug. 2, 75% of all fires in the state were determined to be human-caused.
This year’s human-caused fires include 28 ignited by target shooting, state wildlife officials said. One of the fires was caused last week when someone fired a rifle at a metal target at Richmond Wildlife Management Area, state wildlife officials said. That fire was quickly extinguished after burning about 2 acres.
The Big Hollow Fire, which burned about 438 acres in Wasatch County, as also likely caused by target shooting. Officials said a good portion of the fire burned land at Wallsburg Wildlife Management Area.
The human-caused fires are destroying habitats created for many wildlife species, state officials said. They also estimated that the 28 total fires caused by target shooting cost close to $1 million in firefighting efforts.
In an effort to reduce the risk of starting new fires, target shooting is banned at:
- Black Hill Wildlife Management Area (Sanpete County)
- Brigham Face Wildlife Management Area (Box Elder County)
- Coldwater Wildlife Management Area (Box Elder County)
- Dairy Fork Wildlife Management Area (Utah County)
- East Canyon Wildlife Management Area (Morgan County)
- Henefer/Echo Wildlife Management Area (Summit County)
- Kamas Wildlife Management Area (Summit County)
- Lasson Draw Wildlife Management Area (Utah County)
- Middle Fork Wildlife Management Area (Weber County)
- Millville/Providence Wildlife Management Area (Cache County)
- Richmond Wildlife Management Area (Cache County)
- Santaquin Wildlife Management Area (Utah County)
- Six Mile Wildlife Management Area (Sanpete County)
- Spencer Fork Wildlife Management Area (Utah County)
- Twelve Mile Wildlife Management Area (Sanpete County)
- White Hill Wildlife Management Area (Sanpete County)
- Wallsburg Wildlife Management Area (Wasatch County)
The ban went into effect Monday and will remain in place until fire conditions improve.
“With the dry conditions, any spark can start a fire,” said Scott Walker, northern region habitat manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, in a statement. “With firearm target 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.”
Land conditions haven’t improved much since spring, which is when firefighters projected that an abnormally dry spring and a forecast for a hot, dry summer would lead to an active fire season.
Nearly 94% of Utah was listed as being at least in a moderate drought at the start August, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That’s compared to nearly 56% at the start of the year and 0% this time last year. The Drought Monitor lists nearly two-thirds of the state as being in a severe drought; about 10.2% of the state is considered to be in an extreme drought.
There are three pockets of the state where drought conditions are deemed the worst. They include a sliver of southern Utah that includes parts of Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties. The other two pockets are in central Utah, including eastern and western portions of Juab County, as well as parts of Millard and Tooele counties.
With worsening drought conditions, the fire season forecast ultimately has come to fruition. Firefighters have responded to a report of at least one new fire every day since April 18, Kaitlyn Webb, fire communications coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said Wednesday.
At more than 1,000 fires this year burning over 186,000 acres, 2020 already surpassed all of last year in acres burned and is nearing all of last year’s total number of fires. There were 1,050 total wildfires in 2019 that scorched more than 88,000 acres.
As of Aug. 2, there have been nearly twice as many human-caused fires than at the same point in the year in 2019, as well as about 40% more than 2018, state and federal land management officials reported. It should be noted that the number of acres burned in Utah in 2020 remains well below the close to 486,000 acres that burned two years ago.
In addition to the new target shooting ban at 17 wildlife management locations, fires are currently banned on all state lands where there are no facilities designated for them. Anyone who spots illegal target shooting in wildlife management areas is encouraged to contact state conservation officers at 1-800-662-3336.