Sheriff looks to reduce irresponsible target shooting impacts

Shell casings sit next to the Eel River in Fernbridge. Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal is considering proposing an ordinance that would restrict shooting there.
Shell casings sit next to the Eel River in Fernbridge. Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal is considering proposing an ordinance that would restrict shooting there. Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard

County officials are hoping to reduce the damage and environmental impacts caused by irresponsible target shooting by limiting where it would be allowed.

Sheriff William Honsal said his office and the County Counsel Department are working to draft an ordinance.

“We want to get something to [the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors] in the next couple months,” he said.

Honsal said this problem with irresponsible target shooting on public lands where it’s technically legal, such as the west bank of the Eel River near Fernbridge, has been going on for a long time.

Shooters sometimes leave casings, shells or other trash behind – which can be swept downstream — and stray bullets or shot can impact the fertile agricultural land on the other side of a bank that some shooters use as a backstop, he said.

“Ninety five percent of the shooters go down there and they’re respectful,” Honsal said, noting most people pack out what they pack in, clean up after themselves and keep their muzzles low so bullets don’t go over the bank. “ ... But it’s the bad eggs that go out there an shoot over the bank.”

“Right now we’ve had a big problem with people down at Fernbridge.”

He said livestock and farm equipment have been shot and employees have had close calls and bullets landing near them.

Dennis Leonardi, who has been a Ferndale-area farmer for 40 years, said he has a dairy that’s a mile from the bridge.

“It’s adjacent to the river bar and it’s been a number of years but I have dug a bullet out the siding of the house,” Leonardi said. “So I do know stray bullets fly around because I have visual evidence.”

Pacific Outfitters owner Aaron Ostrum said he takes the PacOut Green Team, a group of volunteers that does trash pickup throughout the county, down to the Eel River near Fernbridge three to four times a year and each time, in about an hour, they pick up about half a ton of garbage off the river banks.

“The Fortuna river bar where people shoot has been the most horrendous place to clean up,” he said.

Ostrum said he and his team pick up all types of debris left behind by shooters and other river users.

“When winter comes the river rages and takes all that crap down to the ocean. Then in the spring it’s all clean again,” he said.

Ostrum echoed what Honsal said about the irresponsible shooters being the minority but affecting target shooters as a whole.

“It’s virtually completely unsupervised,” Ostrum said of Fernbridge.

Honsal said when the proposed ordinance is sent to the Board of Supervisors, they will likely seek public input.

Hunter Cresswell can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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