Exploding targets are cause of at least 16 wildfires in western US states, costing more than US$33M in fire suppression costs, says US Forest Service as agency's northern region prohibits unpermitted explosives on national forest system lands

MISSOULA, Montana , May 20, 2014 (press release) – The Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Northern Region has signed a regional closure order prohibiting unpermitted explosives on national forest system lands, specifically to prohibit the use of exploding targets. Regional Forester Faye Krueger signed the order citing both public safety concerns and the potential for igniting wildfires.

“National Forest System Lands are ideal for a wide range of recreational activities that include hunting and sport shooting,” Krueger said. “We must also ensure that recreational users are safe in their pursuits, and that we eliminate the risk of wildfires from explosive targets.”

In the past two years, exploding targets have been identified as the cause of at least 16 wildfires in the western states, costing taxpayers more than $33 million in fire suppression costs. The closure order includes all 12 national forests and grasslands in the Northern Region, covering northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and remaining portions of South Dakota not already under a closure order by the Rocky Mountain region.

Forest Service law enforcement officers have noted a steady increase in the use of these targets at ranges and other areas of national forest lands over the past few years.

Exploding targets can be purchased legally and are intended for use as a target for firearms practice. They generally consist of two or more separate dry chemical components that become an explosive when mixed together. The separate, unmixed components are legal to possess on National Forest System lands in the region. However, once the compounds are mixed, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives classifies them as an explosive.

The targets explode when struck by a bullet, and the resulting fireball can ignite vegetation and surrounding materials. The force of the explosion can also launch debris at high speeds that can seriously injure or kill bystanders.

“Exploding targets pose a very real safety threat to visitors and our employees” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “In the past year alone, at least 16 wildfires on national forests have been associated with exploding targets, causing millions of dollars in suppression costs while threatening the safety and well-being of surrounding communities.”

The closure is effective immediately across the Northern Region forests and grasslands. Under the order, anyone caught using an exploding target faces a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment for up to six months.

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