Crooked River Ranch residents speak out about target shooting

By Dylan J. Darling The Bulletin Published Jan 8, 2014 at 12:01AM

CROOKED RIVER RANCH — Talk of potentially closing to target shooting The Peninsula, a stretch of public land near Crooked River Ranch, led to a robust turnout for a Tuesday night meeting.

Slater Turner, district ranger for the Crooked River National Grassland, started the meeting at the Crooked River Ranch administration building by saying he and other U.S. Forest Service officials were there to listen. He said they weren’t proposing a closure at the moment.

“We are not specifically proposing anything,” Turner said.

But the agency was looking at options after hearing about safety concerns from some Crooked River Ranch residents as the result of target shooting on The Peninsula. The land is on Crooked River National Grassland, which is overseen by the Forest Service. Turner is the top official on the grassland.

About 80 people turned out for the Tuesday night meeting.

The meeting room was full and the crowd spilled out an open door and onto a porch.

More than 20 people signed up to speak and even more offered questions once the round of public commenting was done. Comments ranged from calls for the Forest Service to improve law enforcement on The Peninsula, specifically for littering and unsafe shooting, to numerous pleas to keep the public land open to target shooting. The land is already subject to a road closure from Nov. 30 to April 1 to lessen the disturbance to wintering big game, such as deer.

Most of the target shooting on The Peninsula occurs at a place the locals call the “waterhole” or the “berm.” The spot is the location of a former stock watering pond and it has an approximately 6-foot berm.

Living just over 500 yards away in one of the homes closest to the berm,Lance and Meg Griffin, both 52, said they don’t have a problem with the target shooting.

“I’ve felt safe since I lived there and I’ve been there for 10 years,” said Lance Griffin, who added that he shoots out there himself.

But Jeff Weih, 67, and his wife, Phyllis Weih, 66, said they don’t feel safe on The Peninsula, a place where they’d like to go for walks. Last September, Jeff Weih said they were on a walk near the berm when they heard bullets whiz past, one about 30 feet away and another about 15 feet away. They haven’t walked there since and don’t plan on going again, unless there are changes.

“I don’t want a shutdown of this area, but I want to make it safer,” he said.

Many of the folks who spoke up at the meeting suggested increasing the height of the berm or installing other safeguards against errant shots.

In early November, Turner sent a letter to Crooked River Ranch residents, putting out a call for comments about target shooting at The Peninsula. They responded with about 300 comments — letters, emails and phone calls — in all. About two-thirds of the people who commented expressed opposition to any sort of restrictions on shooting at The Peninsula.

The Friends and Neighbors of the Deschutes Canyon Area, a group focused on cleaning up public lands around Crooked River Ranch, sent a follow-up letter in November, telling Crooked River Ranch residents that the group would like to see the Forest Service establish an emergency closure on shooting at The Peninsula, except for hunting, until the agency crafts a balanced recreation management plan.

“We envision multi-use out there,” Cindy Murray, president of the group, told the crowd at the meeting Tuesday night.

Turner said he plans to meet with the Crooked River Ranch board and the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners in the coming months to discuss target shooting at The Peninsula. He told the folks at the meeting he’d give an update this spring.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812; ddarling@bendbulletin.com