Shooters have rifle range in their sights after 40 years of trying
By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series on a proposed shooting range at Sadie Creek west of Joyce.
JOYCE — The shooting hasn't started, but the battle has begun.
Clallam County officials say they've chosen a West End site near Sadie Creek for a long-sought public rifle range that's been turned away from at least five other locations since the 1960s.
It would be the only rifle shooting range in the North Olympic Peninsula.
That pleases Don Roberts of Port Angeles and other shooting enthusiasts who've had no sanctioned place in Clallam County to sight in their weapons, target shoot, compete or teach their children how to handle rifles.
No public rifle range exists in Clallam or Jefferson counties, although other types of shooting practice are provided by private clubs.
The idea of creating such a range angers Josey Paul, who lives on East Twin River near the Sadie Creek site — and chief among Paul's objections is lead pollution.
Other parties to the controversy are the three Clallam County commissioners, who are close to asking the state Department of Natural Resources to release 320 acres for the range in an early step of a long process, and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, which is heavily invested in recovering its salmon fishery, but is taking no hard stand at the present.
Here are two viewpoints on the issue, with two more appearing Monday:
Roberts heads the Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Association that scouted out and recommended the Sadie Creek watershed for a range with lanes long enough for high-powered rifles.
Roberts said if there's any opposition to the site, Josey Paul will be its lone voice.
The retired Army colonel has led the effort to build a range in Clallam County at least since 1997.
He said no one lives within earshot of the Sadie Creek site, which nestles in a bowl with a wetland at the bottom.
Just back from leading a tour of the proposed site last week, he said it was in a multiple-use area which would stay open for a variety of users, such as equestrians and ATV riders.
"One of the people I took up today is one of the shakers and movers in the Back Country Horsemen," he said.
As for four-wheelers' annual rendezvous at Sadie Creek, "we'll shut the range down, and they can run over all the trails."
Minimizes effects of lead
The surrounding area will continue growing trees, he said.
"For years, we have said we want that land to remain in timber."
Roberts dismissed the effects of lead on streams and wetlands.
"If lead in a stream killed the fish, there wouldn't be any fish in any of the streams.
"I've put probably 500 pounds of lead, fishing in the steelhead rivers."
At Sadie Creek, shooters would fire into an earthen bank topped with sand to minimize ricochets.
"That's where 99 and 99/100ths of the shots fired are going to end up," he said.
The 178 members of the shooting park association would raise much of the estimated $125,000 it would take to clear the site, install backstops and build berms between shooting lanes.
"The money is there"
A clubhouse with water and sewer service and a generator-powered electrical system would cost another $30,000, Roberts said.
The range would be open seven days a week, he said, overseen by a range master who would live on the site.
Much of the work would be donated by members, and both the association and the county could apply for grants from groups ranging from the state Recreation and Conservation Office to the National Rifle Association.
"The money is there," he said. "You just have to have a piece of ground to do it on."
Paul says there couldn't be a worse location for a shooting range than the 70-acre Class 1 wetland and miles of nearby trails at Sadie Creek west of Joyce.
The environmental activist says he has no quarrel with sport shooting, but he says lead pollution from the range could nullify salmon-restoration efforts in and near the East Twin River.
"We've spent way over $2 million here over the last 15 years," he said during a recent hike through the area, referring to habitat projects.
The work has included five projects to restore large woody debris to Sadie Creek and the East Twin River, plus replacing six culverts with larger, lower passages through which salmon can make their way.
Almost as many smolts in the East Twin watershed originate in the creek as in the main stem of the river, he said, and they grow 10 percent larger.
Rich wetland at risk
The phenomenon, Paul said, could be due to the wetland that floods in winter and provides a feast for salmonids.
That same wetland, he said, will become polluted by lead from bullets fired by shooters.
The earthen backstop won't be the only place the heavy metal will accumulate, Paul said.
Some will come from firearms' breeches, ejectors and muzzles.
Soil tests at the Shelton Rifle and Pistol Club in 2006 revealed levels of lead high enough to trigger cleanup measures at the firing line, as well as at the backstop, he said.
And although the amounts might be tiny, lead and the copper that jackets some bullets are powerful pollutants.
Copper in concentrations as low as two parts per billion can disable the sense of smell that alerts juvenile salmon to the presence of predators, say studies by Oregon State University.
3,112 times allowed levels
As for lead, the state Department of Ecology sets a ratio of 250 parts per million parts of soil, according to a 2000 report on the now padlocked Cassidy Creek site, where shooters once practiced, which is between Sequim and Port Angeles.
Ecology investigators at Cassidy Creek found levels of 810, 1,060 and 1,910 parts per million in tests of three areas where persons had engaged in target shooting.
Tests of soil at the Index Sportsmen's Club for trap shooters in the central Cascade Mountains included levels ranging from 1,130 to 58,100 ppm in 2004, plus dangerous levels of arsenic that sometimes is added to lead to help shot take its spherical shape.
The site subsequently was closed by the U.S. Forest Service, which had leased it to the club.
Paul: No worse place
Turning the Sadie Creek site into a shooting range breaks best management practices prescribed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Paul said.
That's because it has heavy rainfall, groundwater near or at the surface, acidic soil, and a downgradient location.
"It would be very difficult," he said, "to find a worse area to put this in."
"What will really happen is that once this land becomes contaminated — and it will — a federal law comes into effect.
"The feds can come in after the damage is done and force the county to clean it up."
MONDAY — Clallam County officials seek to please shooters while the Lower Elwha Klallam looks to protect its salmon fishery.
Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rifle range timeline
Here are mileposts on gun enthusiasts' path toward a shooting range in Clallam County, which would be the only public rifle shooting range in the North Olympic Peninsula:
- 1960: Neighbors quash proposed range at a gravel pit near the Clallam County Fairgrounds.
- 1968: Clallam County parks officials close the range at former Camp Hayden — which used Striped Peak as a backstop for bullets — when it turns the World War II gun emplacement and Army base into the Salt Creek Recreation Area.
- Late '60s: Neighbors shoot down a proposed range at the top of Ennis Creek.
- Early '70s: County officials select state Department of Natural Resources land off Blue Mountain Road, drawing neighbors' opposition. The proposal finally dies in 1982, when county commissioners set strict insurance requirements for the range.
- 1996: County forms a Shooting Facility Advisory Committee that again recommends the Blue Mountain site.
- 1997: The resurrected proposal for a range at Blue Mountain is killed, this time by neighborhood protests.
- 1998: County commissioners reject a proposed range on DNR land on Cassidy Creek near Carlsborg. They also allow the advisory committee to dissolve. And they refuse to place on the November ballot a non-binding advisory vote on a county shooting range.
- 2000: DNR padlocks access to Cassidy Creek — where shooters had continued practicing — at the request of county commissioners.
- 2002: The Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Association of Clallam County chooses a one-square-mile of DNR land in the Sadie Creek area.
- 2008: Clallam County parks officials begin preparing a letter of intent for the DNR to reconvey the Sadie Creek area to the county.