As urban-raised folks built homes in rural Wisconsin the past 30 years, some of them ridiculed — and even sued — their new neighbors because they didn't like smelling their livestock or hearing their gunfire at the rod-and-gun club's shooting range.
That's why the Legislature in 1998 passed the Range Protection Act to shield existing shooting ranges from new noise ordinances, nuisance complaints and zoning restrictions. Even so, hunters and recreational shooters continue to lose two or three shooting ranges annually when "rurban" residents decide such facilities don't belong in their backyard.
The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation hopes a March 19 workshop in Stevens Point will protect more of the state's approximately 600 shooting ranges. The workshop, sponsored by the WWF and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, will be held at the Ramada Inn-Stevens Point from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
George Meyer, WWF executive director, said some ranges find themselves vulnerable to lawsuits claiming spent bullets and shotgun pellets are contaminating the property or groundwater. The workshop will help range operators prepare for such challenges, and avert or resolve them through teamwork and planning.
"In most cases, it's really about neighbors disliking the noise, but they hire lawyers to argue that the range is violating environmental statutes," Meyer said. "This workshop helps range officers work with the Wildlife Federation and NSSF to create and follow Environmental Stewardship Plans. Ranges without one of these plans will have a tougher fight."
Meyer said these voluntary plans aren't complicated. The process usually requires range operators to determine sites where lead accumulates, describe the types and level of shooting activities, determine what alterations and lead-collection efforts they need and document corrective actions with photos and written records.
Allan Pribnow, Ashland, is chairman of the WWF's shooting-range committee. He said the environmental plans help identify a range's vulnerabilities and how to fix them.
"If your range is well-designed, no lead leaves the property, and all of it can be reclaimed or neutralized," Pribnow said. "The plan covers soil-testing, whether to add lime or phosphate to neutralize the lead and how often to schedule lead-reclamation work."
The NSSF and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute have conducted research to learn how lead gets distributed at shooting ranges, and which environmental conditions create toxicity issues. SAAMI, for instance, developed computer models to determine where shot will fall at trap and skeet ranges under various weather conditions.
Depending on the type of shooting and the loads used, lead-distribution patterns are similar at all shooting ranges. On a trapshooting field, for instance, shot typically falls over about four acres of land. In a skeet-shooting field, the "shotfall" zone covers about 14 acres.
Pribnow said it's fairly easy to reclaim lead from earthen backstops on most outdoor handgun and rifle ranges. To reclaim lead shot on shotgun ranges, range operators can hire specialized earth-skimming machines that slice off the top 6 inches of soil and filter it for lead.
"If their range is well-designed and they do this right, they can recycle the lead and make a profit through their cleanups," Pribnow said. "We want people to learn how ranges can deal with lead and contain its problems. Lead will be an issue until it's phased out in ammunition, but it's manageable on ranges because we know where to find it."
Meyer said workshop attendees also will discuss whether Wisconsin's shooting ranges should organize to ensure they can handle legal challenges. George Pitts, chairman of the Oregon Association of Shooting Ranges, will discuss why range operators in his state consolidated their efforts to improve and protect their facilities.
In the meantime, Meyer advises gun clubs and ranges to build and maintain neighborly relations as new people move in.
"Sometimes, you can avoid all the grief by just reaching out," he said. "Some clubs give neighbors free memberships, and invite them to picnics and game feeds."
To register or learn more about the shooting-range workshop, contact Jennifer Evans at the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, (608) 635-2742, or Jennifer@wiwf.org.
Patrick Durkin is a free-lance writer who covers outdoor recreation for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. E-mail him at email@example.com.