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Target practice in desert north of Phoenix triggering loads of trash
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Target practice in desert north of Phoenix triggering loads of trash

TABLE MESA RECREATION AREA, Ariz. — After target shooting recently in this remote expanse of high desert north of the Valley, Donnie Miller picked up all of the brass casings that fell around his rifle.

But it’s clear from the landscape around him that not everyone does the same.

Spent red and yellow shotgun shells, broken clay targets used for skeet or trap shooting and more items cover the ground in areas. Then there are the shot-up TVs, computers, furniture and other items used inappropriately for target practice.

“If everyone just picked up what they shot it would be a lot cleaner,” said Miller, a former Marine.

Surveying the area, Marty Fabritz, shooting sports branch chief at the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Tom Bickauskas, natural resource specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, said that too often trigger trash left by inconsiderate shooters is spoiling landscapes around the state.

“You can see that others have been there and they do not act in a responsible manner and pick up their trash,” Bickauskas said.

Their agencies worked with Tread Lightly, a national nonprofit, to create the campaign Respected Access in Arizona, which educates shooters on the importance of reducing trigger trash and provides tips on how to do so.

For example, the campaign encourages shooters to use spinning metal or paper targets that can be easily carted away rather than items like household appliances that foul landscapes.

“The end goal is to change behavior,” Fabritz said.

The campaign also urges shooters to carry bags to pick up their own trash as well as what others have left.

As part of the effort, Tread Lightly offers guidebooks, brochures and how-to videos.

Respected Access in Arizona organizes cleanups of trigger trash around the state. More than 400 people turned out for the last two events, filling two large dumpsters at each site, Bickauskas said.

The next cleanup of the area was scheduled for March 1.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said in an email that she appreciates the effort to educate but wants officials to close some areas to target shooting.

In those areas, lead and other metals from ammunition and electronics that are left on the ground could cause contamination.

In addition, she said, saguaro cactuses are often shot and eventually die from bullet wounds. Rocks are often painted and used as targets, she added.

Bickauskas and Fabritz said many gun users are unaware of the trash they are leaving or think there is an organization that cleans it up for them. However, public land users are required to take out what they take in and could face fines if they don’t.