Photo by Mark Larson
The Alexandre family and employees pose next to their K-rails at Fernbridge.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors took what some might consider a long-overdue action Tuesday on the issue of shooting on unincorporated land, unanimously voting in favor of a county ordinance that would prohibit target shooting in any area that does not meet standards for safe shooting. Those standards require a 20-foot birm of packed earth behind the target area.
Stray bullets have been a subject of concern for several years, especially on the Ferndale riverbar, where target shooting along the Eel River has endangered people, animals and property. The issue gained new scrutiny in 2016, when the Alexandre family, which owns property adjacent the the riverbar near Fernbridge, blocked access to drivers using K-rails
, which remain in place today. At the time the Alexandres and their neighbors, the Vevodas, complained of bullets whizzing past their heads when they worked in the fields near Fernbridge.
At the July 10 meeting, Supervisor Rex Bohn, who represents Ferndale, acknowledged that a change had been a long time coming. Several dairy owners have complained about having to put down cattle shot by stray bullets.
"I’ve been dealing with this since before the Cahill boys could grow beards," said Bohn in the meeting, referring to Fernbridge resident Zach Cahill, who spoke in favor of the ordinance during public comment.
Tom Mattson, the county director of public works, spoke as a private citizen during public comment to say that, as a resident of Alton, stray bullets from target shooting on his side of the Eel plague him as well. His daughter had several bullets whiz past her while she was riding her horse.
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, represented at the meeting by Lt. Mike Fridley, has received many reports of promiscuous shooting in the area. Fridley said one man was hit twice by target shooters after he fell asleep in a bush after a night of drinking. Several other local landowners and a representative for local dairy farmers spoke in support of the ordinance. Supervisor Mike Wilson made a motion to advance the ban and the remaining supervisors (with Ryan Sundberg absent) delivered a unanimous yes vote.
The text of the ordinance prohibits target shooting within a half mile of any state highway, and says "no person shall discharge any firearm for the purpose of target shooting on into or over any public place ... unless the safe shooting standards listed below are met." Those safe shooting standards include a 20-foot tall backdrop of earth behind the target area. Previous attempts to erect a backdrop near the popular Fernbridge site were stopped by the California Coastal Commission. Violation of the new ordinance would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000, a six month jail sentence or both. The new ordinance does not have any affect on current state hunting laws, which are regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It also does not apply to private land.
The ordinance is due to go into effect 30 days from its passage, which would be Aug. 9.