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State Natural Resources Board approves request to begin process to establish a shooting range in Columbia County

Contact(s): Mark Aquino, 608-275-3262

October 29, 2014 at 11:42:56 am

EDITOR'S ADVISORY: This news release has been updated to correct that the earliest date NR 45 rule development could go into effect would be prior to the end of 2016.

MADISON - A proposal to amend the state property management plan to address the need for a public shooting range in Columbia County received a green light from the state Natural Resources Board at its meeting today in Madison.

The Department of Natural Resources requested to initiate a process to amend the master plan for DNR wildlife and fisheries areas in the county to change the designation of a roughly 4-acre portion of Mud Lake Wildlife Area from a wildlife habitat management zone to a special use zone. This change is necessary before development of a public shooting range on the county can move forward. A map [PDF] of the parcel proposed for the new designation is available on line.

The Columbia County Planning Group master plan [PDF], approved by the board in 2012, guides operation and management of 20 DNR-owned properties. At the time it was approved the plan recognized a demand for a public shooting range in Columbia County due to the high volume of target shooting that was occurring in a couple wildlife area parking lots.

In addition to the need identified in the master plan, a recently completed Strategic Guidance for Shooting Ranges in Wisconsin [PDF] outlined an objective to establish ranges across the state to meet the demand recognized a need in the Columbia County area.

"Similar to the original master planning process, the amendment process includes opportunities for public review, input and opinion," said Mark Aquino, secretary's director for south central Wisconsin.

"Last spring an ad-hoc citizen's committee reviewed the pros and cons of Columbia County wildlife and fisheries areas [PDF] for a possible public range," said Aquino. "Our staff surveyed all DNR lands in the county and identified seven properties as having the desired topography, location, access, soils and archeological clearance. After review and hearing public comment on the areas, the committee recommended the Mud Lake Wildlife Area location for a future public shooting range."

In addition to the amendment process, the DNR will also prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed project. The EIS will also provide opportunity for public review. Two public open houses are planned to gather comment on both the amendment and the EIS. The second open house will also include a formal hearing on the EIS, as required by state law. Locations and times will be announced under a separate announcement.

Rule considered to address unmanaged shooting at other properties

Local officials and residents also have expressed concerns over unmanaged target shooting that takes place on DNR lands within the county, specifically on the Swan Lake and French Creek Wildlife Areas. In early 2015, the DNR plans on initiating a separate NR 45 rule development process to address the unmanaged shooting concerns.

"We take the safety and noise concerns expressed by county officials and nearby residents seriously," said Aquino, "and we've taken steps to curb this activity on the Swan Lake and French Creek areas by fencing and closing to all activities in the area used for shooting at Swan Lake and by reclaiming an old gravel pit which removed berms used as shooting backstops at French Creek.

"In addition to noise and safety concerns, both areas were heavily littered with shell casings and shot-up targets that sometimes include old appliances, glass and metal containers and other items. It's a mess that has been left for my staff to clean up regularly throughout each year.

"In early 2015 we will submit to the NRB a scoping statement for development of the NR 45 rule package, including a rule that will give the department clear authority to prohibit any specific activity that is creating a problem, such as unmanaged target shooting, on DNR lands anywhere in the state. The second rule would establish general rules for new public shooting ranges statewide. Currently a standard set of rules does not exist and individual rules must be developed for each range.

"Rule making includes multiple opportunities for public involvement and ultimately legislative oversight but the first step is a request to the NRB to kick-off the process with a scoping statement that describes the intent of a proposed rule and how we will develop it." Pending approval to proceed, the rules that are developed through this public involvement process would go into effect prior to the end of 2016.

Time line for Columbia County Group master plan amendment

Last Revised: Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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