The North Hills in the Helena Valley offer a convenient recreation area for Helena residents and nearby landowners. As with many other areas, however, conflicts and safety issues have arisen as development encroaches on previously open space.
The 4,700-acre block of public land surrounded by subdivisions is popular among hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, OHV enthusiasts, target shooters, and hunters. Safety issues surfaced as recreational shooters created informal shooting areas in places that were too close to the road or that provided no safe line of fire. Riding a horse or mountain bike or even driving in a car was uncomfortable with shooters in the area. Unfortunately, some of the shooters were careless and used live trees or power poles for target practice.
Concerned users elevated the safety issue to the BLM and Lewis and Clark County Commissioners. The commission submitted a resolution requesting that the BLM restrict the discharge of firearms to a specific area, and declare a safety zone along the access road.
BLM Recreation Planner Pat Zurcher made a presentation to the Western Montana Resource Advisory Council (RAC) late in 2006 asking for possible solutions. The RAC appointed a subgroup to tackle the issue. After a sputtering start, the working group took off last fall and by November had a recommendation to present to the rest of the RAC.
The group proposed the creation of a year-long, no-shooting zone for the one square mile section where most of the current problems occur. The remainder of the area would remain open to lawful hunting and recreational shooting. Extensive signing would be required to inform and educate the public regarding boundaries and purpose of the no shooting zone.
Where do we go from here?
The RAC endorsed the recommendation and now the ball is in BLM’s court to gauge public support and go through the environmental analysis to see if the proposal is feasible. The subgroup is hoping the recommendation can be implemented before the recreational shooters are out in force this summer and fall.