SALT LAKE CITY — Utah wildlife officials announced Wednesday that they are temporarily banning campfires and most recreational target shooting on all 146 of its wildlife management areas in the state due to the growing fire risks.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which manages the wildlife management areas, said the ban went into effect immediately and will remain in place "until fire conditions improve." Signs were posted around management areas this week informing recreators of the bans.
There were three exceptions to the target shooting ban. Officials said people will still be allowed to shoot within established shooting ranges at Big Hollow Wildlife Management Area in Sanpete County, Fillmore Wildlife Management Area in Millard County and Hobble Creek Wildlife Management Area in Utah County.
Hunting at wildlife management areas is not affected by the ban announced Wednesday. The division also has two indoor ranges in Cache and Salt Lake counties.
The Utah DWR similarly suspended target shooting at 17 of its wildlife management areas last summer due to fire conditions. Eric Edgley, the division's habitat section chief, pointed out that there were even two large wildfires on state wildlife management areas last year that began because of target shooting.
One of those fires happened near Provo Canyon in October 2020. While it sparked at an Orem Police Department gun range, it wound up burning 85% of the neighboring Timpanogos Wildlife Management Area.
Utah fire officials fear 2021 could be an even more active fire season because it's already well ahead of the most recent fire seasons. State officials said there have already been 330 wildfires across the state, including 284 confirmed human-caused fires entering Wednesday.
The "extreme dry conditions" across Utah make it very easy for a fire to start, especially on the wildlife management area land, Edgley said.
"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," he said in a statement, adding that campfires and fireworks, obviously can "also create sparks that can cause wildfires."
The division made its announcement a day after Gov. Spencer Cox issued his third executive order tied to the state's ongoing drought. The order banned fireworks on all state-managed land and all unincorporated land across Utah, including private unincorporated land.
While state conservation officers will also now monitor for illegal campfire, fireworks and target shooting on wildlife management area land, they asked anyone who spots illegal actions to contact the division through its UTIP hotline, 1-800-662-3336, through the DWR law enforcement app or by texting 847411.