Politicians using their offices to pander to voters during campaigns is nothing new. But our U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke going where he should not go with the practice.

In a letter this past week to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Zinke asked forest officials to lift the ban on target shooting in the Hyalite Creek drainage south of Bozeman. Forest managers instituted the ban in April out of concern for the safety of other forest users. In August, forest officials proposed making the ban permanent.

Zinke, who is facing a challenge from Democrat Denise Juneau on the November ballot, wrote that the ban has “infuriated” some of his constituents. Writing the letter might shore up his support to some in the shooting community, but before wielding the influence of his office on this one, Rep. Zinke needs to consider:

n The Hyalite drainage has been said to be the most popular Forest Service recreation area in the state, with literally tens of thousands of hikers, campers, skiers, mountain bikers, berry pickers, hunters, boaters, anglers, bird watchers – you name it – visiting the area every month of the year.

n Many of those recreationists have reported having close brushes with errant bullets from target shooters.

n Target shooters have left pickup loads of shot-up appliances, furniture, spent shells and other garbage strewn over the slopes of this creek drainage.

n The hail of target shooters’ bullets has downed trees in popular shooting areas – and not just a few.

Allowing target shooters to discharge firearms on this scale in an area as densely populated with recreationists as this an invitation to tragedy.

Zinke suggests that the ban is a “slippery slope” that somehow will lead to the loss of recreation opportunities in other areas. But its popularity makes the Hyalite drainage unique, and the target shooting ban there has no bearing on other public lands in Montana. And it’s important to note that the Forest Service is not prohibiting hunting in the Hyalite drainage, just the destructive and dangerous target shooting that was becoming far too common.

If Rep. Zinke wants to do something constructive, he should facilitate talks between shooters and forest managers about setting up a safe shooting range in the area where shooters could police their own ranks and ensure public safety.

But micromanaging a thoughtful and cautious decision on the part of forest managers on this issue is not a wise use of a public office.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

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