Labrador bill would transfer BLM land to county for gun range

A pickup truck heads into a long-used shooting range area on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property north of Riggins; new congressional legislation would transfer the land to Idaho County for an official shooting range.  (BLM)
A pickup truck heads into a long-used shooting range area on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property north of Riggins; new congressional legislation would transfer the land to Idaho County for an official shooting range. (BLM)

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador introduced legislation Wednesday to transfer 31 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Idaho County to the county for a gun range - and the BLM backs the move.

“We’re supportive of the effort,” said Suzanne Endsley, public affairs officer for the BLM’s Coeur d’Alene and Spokane districts. “There is no designated range in that area, and people are using this location anyway. From an environmental standpoint, it would be nice if it was managed a little bit better. We just don’t have the resources to go there on a weekly basis and pick up all the shells, and there is interest in the county to do a really bang-up management job.”

Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik said the county has been pushing for the range for at least six years, since before he took office. “I think it’s a good thing for the county,” he said. “I don’t always see eye-to-eye with the BLM on a lot of issues, but when we do see eye-to-eye, I’m going to try to work together with them and work things out. They want to help us.”

Labrador, who has worked with the county and the agency on the issue since 2011, said in a statement, “I am proud to introduce this bill and I will work hard to get it passed.”

Ironically, Chmelik just finished an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor of Idaho on a combative platform of calling for the state to demand to take over federal public lands.

This issue is different, though. The BLM property, located about 10 miles north of the Time Zone Bridge in Riggins on a hillside above Highway 95, has long been used as a shooting range.

Endsley said the BLM has been working with the county since 2010 on the issue, initially trying to arrange a minimal-cost “recreation and public purpose lease” from the BLM to the county for the land. But that’s been complicated by the site’s former use for a long-ago trash dump and the detritus of its longtime use for shooting, which moved the property out of the category of lands BLM can lease.

“The bureau is not in the business of developing gun ranges, and that’s the use that is kind of happening there,” she said. “It’s away from the beaten path … it’s not endangering anyone.” Asked if any stray bullets could reach Highway 95, she said, “Because of the topography and location, the chances of that would be probably slim to none.”

The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to transfer the property to Idaho County, with the condition that the land would be used “only as a shooting range.” The county would pay all survey and other transaction costs, and release the federal government from any liability associated with the property.

“Hunting is a big thing, firearms are a big thing in Idaho County,” Chmelik said. “People use them on a regular basis, and this would be a great opportunity to have something like that in the county.” The county sheriff’s department also is interested in using the range for firearms training.

Todd Winer, Labrador’s press secretary, said companion legislation in the Senate is likely to be introduced next week, and the Senate’s looking likely to move some public lands spending bills within the next few months that could provide an opportunity to incorporate Labrador’s measure.

“We feel pretty confident,” he said.

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