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Illegal gun recreation persists in area, issue lacks solutions

Posted: August 10, 2012 - 8:41am  |  Updated: August 10, 2012 - 8:43am
A shot-up vehicle sits abandoned in a gravel pit on private property off Marathon Road that has been popular with trespassing target shooters. Illegal shooting ranges have caused problems for law enforcement officials this summer.  M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
A shot-up vehicle sits abandoned in a gravel pit on private property off Marathon Road that has been popular with trespassing target shooters. Illegal shooting ranges have caused problems for law enforcement officials this summer.

Cook Inlet Region Inc. owns a lot of land on the Kenai Peninsula. The Alaska Native corporation is the largest private landholder in Southcentral, said Jim Jager, CIRI’s corporate communications director.  

The group owns a parcel of land at Rainbow Drive in the Soldotna area. A few years ago, it received multiple complaints of people shooting guns and dumping trash on the land, and, in response, CIRI plowed a berm to block its land and put up no trespassing signs. 

Gunfire ruined the signs within a couple days, nearby resident Jim Oltersdorf recalled. 

Gun enthusiasts — hunters, recreationalists, Second Amendment supporters — are plentiful on the Peninsula. Those who don’t own land are often searching for makeshift firing ranges. Law enforcement officials are conscious of popular spots and receive many noise complaints from residents. But the legality of firing weapons is nuanced, and landowners tend to fend for themselves. 

On June 17, target practice at the Rainbow Drive parcel ignited a wildland fire. Responders arrived on scene about 10 minutes after receiving a report. The fire had spread about an acre, but the total affected area remained less than that due to the quick response time. 

Fires caused by firearms and target practice are scarce, a once- or twice-a-year occurrence, said Brad Nelson, Central Emergency Services safety officer. It wasn’t the first time, however, people had used the area.

CIRI has visited the parcel since the fire to clean it up and to replace trespassing signs. Its lands are located both on and off the road system. In particular, people regularly trespass on their logging roads. 

A consultant based in Kenai works with CIRI to conduct weekly checks at the parcels of land. The process is never ending, said Dara Glass, CIRI’s land manager. 

“We own so much land that there’s just no way (to keep up),” she said. “Unless we had 100 people checking. Sometimes we visit the lands on a reactionary basis. Other times visits are to areas which we are aware have trespass issues, with repeat offenders, so to speak.”

People can access the group’s land by obtaining specific permits. In fact, their trespassing signs say “access by permit only.” There are permits for everything from berry picking and wood gathering to camping and hunting.

This year, the group declared the entire Kenai Peninsula off limits, because it wanted to give the land a break, Glass said. 

According to the Alaska State Troopers, there are numerous popular areas people use for firearm recreation. West Poppy Lane and Gas Well Road are among them. 

“There’s a couple of gravel pits, a couple of ponds that people visit and engage in these activities,” said Sgt. Robert Hunter. “A lot of the times when we get complaints, we’ll go out there, make contact, make sure they’re shooting in a safe direction, make sure they’re not under the influence. Basically, make sure there are no real crimes being committed.”

Shooting a gun in and of itself isn’t illegal. And a person may have permission from a property owner, but that doesn’t mean everything they’re doing is legal, said troopers’ spokeswoman Megan Peters in an email. 

People have to read the laws pertaining to firearms and land ownership, she added.

In state parks, people may only legally fire weapons for hunting during a permitted hunting season, a Department of Natural Resources representative said.  

The majority of calls the troopers receive are noise complaints, and troopers occasionally are able to reach the registered landowners, Hunter said. Most are disinterested in pursuing trespassing charges.

“That’s how about 90 to 95 percent of the scenarios play out,” Hunter said. 

Most people the troopers contact, he said, are legitimate gun owners; they’re not felons or people under the influence. Rather, they’re parents teaching their kids to shoot or hunters setting their sights for moose season.

Some areas are problematic, however. Gun shells and demolished items are left behind. But due to staffing levels and current call volumes, troopers have little time to go and check these areas. 

CIRI and residents who live close to the popular spots are instead asking would-be sharp shooters to respect property rights and clean up their messes.

“We depend on the public to be a good neighbor, and when they see issues arise, call troopers or 911 and report the incident, and they’ll contact us,” Glass said. “That route is preferable, so the authorities know of the problem immediately. People also can contact me directly, and I’ll try and take care of it. It all depends on the situation.”

Oltersdorf has owned his property near Rainbow Drive for ten years. He said he and his wife hear gunfire day and night. So, when the June 17 fire occurred he thought someone had been shot.

“It was midnight, we heard gunfire,” he said. “To be frank, I thought somebody got shot out there when all the emergency personal were responding to the fire. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all.”

He’s had stern talks with people who fired across the road or over a nearby lake. Homes surround the lake, he said. During other occurrences, he remained inside out of fear that the people wielding the guns were intoxicated.

He also said he realizes CIRI cannot have an armed guard at all properties they own and trooper patrols would be ineffective. 

“The desired goal of dampening the problem, it’s almost futile, because the troopers can make a run out there right now, and nobody’s out there,” Oltersdorf said. “Come Sunday morning, 7 a.m., people are blasting away with semiautomatic gunfire.”

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at

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highriskphoto 08/10/12 - 09:06 am

Oltersdorf made statement about the fire being at around noon, not 12 o'clock at night, an error was made in the reporting of this.

JOAT 08/10/12 - 10:02 am
Go to the range

First, there is no reference to the fire being at noon. It says midnight in the article.

Second, we have a beautiful and well equipped shooting range on Beaver Creek between Soldotna and Kenai. Anyone who wants to target practice should go there and stop causing these kinds of problems for the public. Gun ownership comes with responsibilities. One of those is public safety. Shooting should be conducted at proper shooting facilities that have a proper backstop. So, unless you install a safe shooting range on your own property, you need to drop a couple bucks on a membership at the shooting range. Nothing is free.

Related to this situation are the idiots who give gun owners a bad name by shooting up signs. I loath anyone who destroys public property, especially such outright displays of stupidity as shooting at road signs. It is criminal and it is stealing tax-payer money. It is one of the most overt reasons why the anti-gun public at large detests gun owners.

4FIVE4 08/10/12 - 10:24 am
"This year, the group

"This year, the group declared the entire Kenai Peninsula off limits, because it wanted to give the land a break, Glass said."

Must be nice to have THAT kind of power! I guess we are all tresspassers in the eyes of the natives! Even on our own property. If they have so much land that they cant take care of it, sell it!

kmccullo 08/11/12 - 06:24 am
Range not Available!

There is a solution to this issue! The area needs a shooting range that is more accessible to the public. Last I checked, our only shooting range was "out of memberships"-- same thing every year. If you don't buy a membership right away, they max out.
The wonderful Sterling folks that set up a public range shut down. Now my only option is to drive miles away to another range!
We obviously have the demand-- just need the supply!!!

radiokenai 08/11/12 - 08:03 am
Give me a break!

I find it ironic that CIRI has the odasity to complain about a couple of spent targets and cans left on a GRAVEL PIT range, all the while CIRI is raping the land of trees and destroying wetland in place of Gas Wells for profit??!!

To JOAT: Sounds all wonderful and dandy, however do you know the cost of membership for the SSGC? Hint: $80.00 a year. So you want minimum wage Joe Plumber to pay $80.00 in fees so he can go to the club (in front of a bunch of stuck up jock straps) and sight in his rifle for a half hour? I think not.

To the Alaska State Troopers: Very good response that you take. Troopers are sort of caught in the crossfire of this issue, and they respond with a fair response. The Troopers are not CIRI's personal security land force. The Troopers work for all of us, and their job is to make safety the number one priority. Seeing a Dad at the GRAVEL PIT in the middle of NOWHERE teaching Junior to shoot a .22 for upcoming Spruce Hen Season is not to be arrested and charged with a firearms charge or a trespassing charge (like our Communist State of CIRI demands..)

To the Author: I would like to take a moment to mention, that in the State of Alaska, people who are convicted of a "Felony" still have the right to possess firearms if certain conditions are met (non-violent, 10 years past successful release of probation etc.)

To the Native Cooperation: Give Me a Break! I believe it was Vern Stanford that was in charge of this circus in the first place? ( he ever got elected in that position speaks for itself...If he is the same Vern Stanford I remember in school...what a piece of work) Now, there use to be a excellent GRAVEL PIT range on the escape route to swing by and plunk a few. There is nobody around for miles, no harm done. Sure, the small gravel pit got cluttered up, but responsible gun enthusiasts on several occasions took the time to clean the area up. In fact, I personally talked to a gentleman who spent a day cleaning up several years ago. Here a couple of years ago, a Gentleman took the time to re-clean the area and make it presentable for the next few years.

And how does Vern and his group of SS Land Barrons reward someones good deed? Raze over the area and demand it off limits to everyone! IT IS A GRAVEL PIT VERN!

Now I can understand closing off land that is near residential neighborhoods etc. But what harm is done having a range out in a GRAVEL PIT in the middle of nowhere?

Believe it or not, people do have a sense of responsibility. That fact has been proven on the escape route a few times. All it would take is to put up a notice of "Clean Up Day" every few years at the GRAVEL PITS. I guarantee you would be surprised at the response.

But no, CIRI's response is to clutter up the land with a bunch of "No Trespassing" signage and make threats against the citizens of the Kenai Peninsula. Shame on you!

COMMON SENSE: Would say, why not WORK with Gun Enthusiasts? There is no harm in people driving out to a GRAVEL PIT in the middle of NOWHERE and shooting off some rounds. Perhaps CIRI should understand that people are going to SHOOT THERE REGARDLESS? DUH!! So why not work out a solution instead of a threatening demand? All you get with demands, is negative response in return.

Give a wild guess which direction I am going to VOTE on anything CIRI has to say in future ballots? Hint: BIG NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The final questions remain: I have lived here all my life, and because I am a white I have to WORK and BUY my land. How come a native corporation gets FREE land? Then make a bunch of demands on me?

And since CIRI owns so much land on the Kenai Peninsula (as mentioned in the article) how selfish of them not to open up a couple of GRAVEL PITS for target practice!


JOAT 08/11/12 - 07:08 am
Range is always available

Our shooting range never "runs out of memberships". I know the key keeper and he has a big stack of membership forms and keys for the gate just lying there waiting for new members to show up. They've never turned anyone away. Head out to the range at Noon on Sunday when the shotgun ranges are open to the public. You'll be able to purchase a membership on the spot.

The "supply-demand" argument is hollow. The problem is that you have all these people who want things for free. Since there is a nice range facility readily available, but we have a lot of people who won't buy a membership (the fee goes completely into running and maintaining the facility, which is managed by an all-volunteer board), it is obvious that the people who choose to go shoot and trash other people's property (be it CIRI, private, or state owned) really don't care. Just like the debate over dipnetters trashing the beach, we have anti-litter laws on the books. We need to step up enforcement of these laws.

radiokenai 08/11/12 - 07:57 am

Good solution..."Lets Arrest Everyone"! More Government! More Laws! More Prisons! Less Common Sense!

Do you even know what a GRAVEL PIT is?

I chuckle at your stupid comment that because I take my son out to a GRAVEL PIT located in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE must mean "I don't care".

Maybe it means I don't have $80.00 to spend on a membership I will only use 3 days a year! (Maybe that $80.00 would be better spent on some hunting clothes etc for my son instead of membership fees for a place I rarely go to?)

Are you like smoking bath salts or something?

PS: I am a member of the SSGC, but sometimes I don't CARE to drive 60+ miles from Kasilof to Kenai because I want to fire 3 rounds to test a regulator

radiokenai 08/11/12 - 08:09 am
To 454

HAHA! Ya, CIRI needs to "Give the Land a Break from Themselves"!

Afterall: Look who is doing to most damage to CIRI land!

Sounds like the Kenai River Fiasco of "Gee..Where did the Kings go?"

CIRI continues to Develop and Destroy their land for profit..and then blames it on a couple of GRAVEL PIT shooting ranges...

I suggest someone put the bottle down and sober up to reality!

Seafarer 08/18/12 - 10:32 am
Gunners are Everywhere

I live between Soldotna and Sterling. There is constant gunfire from neighbors all around me. No one seems to care what direction they are shooting, what time of day it is, if there are children present, or how loud the gunfire is. This place has echos. I've had to pull my Grandkids in from outside playing because these fools do not have the brains to realize they are putting my Grandkids in danger. They do not care and they use the ole "My family has been here forever, so I can do what I want." I call BS. So has my family, but that doesn't entitle me to shoot up the neighborhood. I have called the Troopers and they did help in one case, but basically said that it's legal to shoot in this area. Around homes? They are useless.

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