The Northern Region of the U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets on public land under its jurisdiction, saying the targets have caused 16 wildfires across the West over the past two years at a cost of $33 million to taxpayers.
Regional Forester Faye Krueger announced the ban Tuesday, citing concerns over public safety and the wildfire threat. It covers all national forests in Montana, Idaho, North Dakota and the South Dakota grasslands.
“I don’t see where someone can argue against visitor or recreational shooting safety,” said Phil Sammon, a spokesman for the Northern Region. “That’s the primary concern here, as well as a safeguard to our natural resource.”
The targets are popular among long-range shooters and can be legally purchased on the market. They consist of two separate compounds, including ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, that become explosive when mixed.
While the powders are legal in their separate packets, they’re classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives once mixed. The targets explode when struck by a high-impact device, such as a bullet.
“You can mix them with any quantity you want, and they make a pretty large fireball when struck,” said Sammon. “They can also throw out debris at high speeds.”
Other Forest Service regions have already enacted the ban, including the Pacific Northwest Region and the Rocky Mountain Region.
“National forest system lands are ideal for a wide range of recreational activities that include hunting and sport shooting,” said Krueger. “But we must also ensure that recreational users are safe in their pursuits, and that we eliminate the risk of wildfires from exploding targets.”
Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have long feared that the ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder could be abused by terrorist and homegrown extremists. YouTube videos show people using as little as 20 pounds of the material blowing up trailers, washing machines and a car.
Sammon said the Northern Region closure goes into effect immediately. Those who violate the order face a $5,000 fine and six months in prison.