rifle and shotgun shooting. There are badges of merit for that.
And also a costly cleanup at a Boy Scout camp on federal trust property in the scenic Tushar Mountains of southern Utah.
Since 1965, the Boy Scouts of America operated a popular camp near the head of Beaver Canyon through a lease with the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). The centerpiece of the 600-acre property was a shooting range, which is now a liability as the floors are riddled with lead from rifle shells and buckshot.
“There are no perennial streams or running water in the area for this lead to enter,” SITLA official Bryan Torgerson told the agency’s board of directors at a recent meeting. “That’s really in our favor because nothing leaves the site or has the opportunity to contaminate water.”
But without cleaning up the site, SITLA, which manages escrow properties to generate income for schools, can’t do much with the property. Officials, valued at $1.8 million, hope to sell the isolated property surrounded by Fishlake National Forest near Eagle Point ski area.
Trustee country officials secured a solution to salvage the Tushar property, which cost about $300,000 and the loss of dozens of trees, but the situation shows there are environmental and health concerns related to shooting ranges across the state.
Target shooting takes place at both designated shooting ranges and unregulated locations on public lands where countless shots are fired each year. The Division of Wildlife Resources lists Utah’s 53 shooting ranges, many of them outdoors, such as the Kay Lee Public Shooting Range on the west side of Salt Lake City.
Lead is a heavy metal located 82nd on the periodic table and is commonly used in bullets and shot. It is also a dangerous toxin that can accumulate in humans and animals and cause neurological damage. If discarded ammunition is not contained in shooting ranges, lead can migrate off-site and seep into groundwater, posing a potential environmental hazard.
Boy Scout Camp is among several old Utah shooting ranges participating in the voluntary cleanup program administered by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This program streamlines the process of remediation of contaminated sites by responsible property owners under the supervision of DEQ.
Clean-up work was completed at a former West Jordan police shooting range at 7725 South and 6400 West; the Salt Lake Gun Club, 208 S. Redwood Road, North Salt Lake; the Utah National Guard small arms firing range west of Vernal. In addition to the SITLA property, cleanup work is underway at the Carbon County Law Enforcement Area in Price and the former Police Mutual Aid Association area in Parleys Canyon.
“When we’re done with that cleanup, essentially they’re going to give us a clean bill of health to put on the deed,” Torgerson said, “so any future owners, buyers or prospects in perpetuity can do a title search and that’s going to pull up.” and show that this page has been properly treated. And so it offers future owners a lot of security.”
The Scout organization gave up its 99-year lease on the Tushar property in 2021 following its publicized bankruptcy and breach with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It only paid $50 a year to use the property. SITLA will receive at least $300,000 in improvements including a recently installed fountain and high ropes course and the lead mud.
The land is among the most beautiful in SITLA’s 3.4-million-acre portfolio, but the contamination is limiting the agency’s ability to monetize it, according to Torgerson. The contamination covers an area of 2 acres and is contained in the top 3 inches of soil.
SITLA plans to reduce the concentration below 400 milligrams per kilogram of lead, the federal standard in residential areas. Along the rifles’ line of fire, levels exceeded 16,000 milligrams, or 40 times that limit, Torgerson said. While concentrations at the firing range were much lower, only about double the health limit, this part of the camp is much more difficult to clean up as the contamination is spread over a larger area. It also affected the trees, whose trunks and branches were embedded “from top to bottom” with snails and pellets, he said.
The only way to clean up the site was to cut down the trees, pile up the wood, and burn it, which allowed the lead to melt and drip out. The burning, which took place under just the right conditions last winter, had to be done carefully to avoid the lead volatizing and releasing it into the atmosphere, Torgerson explained.
The plan is to collect the ashes and treat them along with the soil when the rest of the site is cleaned up. The unburned wood is removed. A SITLA officer took a piece of this wood into the office and found buckshot falling out.
For shooting ranges, DEQ typically requires contaminated soil to be removed and disposed of at hazardous waste facilities. For the Tushar site, however, it allows for something different for the first time, given the site’s challenging location, Torgerson said.
The ground is to be scraped up, treated on site with special equipment to collect the lead fragments, and then returned to the former shooting ranges. The cost is expected to be around $300,000 compared to the nearly $1 million needed to move 1,400 cubic yards of soil.
SITLA has hired a South Dakota-based company called Range Recovery Technologies, which is expected to complete the job this summer once the snow melts. The company’s two-stage process removes 98 to 99% of the lead from the soil, according to company owner Brady Gross.
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“It depends on the moisture content. When you’re in wetter, darker, blacker soil, there’s not much to separate. We just have to treat the soil,” said Gross. “But if there’s a physical cartridge or BBs from shotguns in the ground, we have our own patented systems that use air on the back of a homemade trammel.”
The screened soil is then treated with a powdered product that neutralizes any remaining toxins, he said. As the ground is brought back to the ground, the recovered lead is sent to a recycler to be processed into ammunition, batteries and other lead-containing products.
SITLA has not leased any new shooting ranges for more than 15 years due to the environmental impact.
“We have known for some time that shooting ranges are problematic,” Torgerson told SITLA trustees, one of whom admitted contributing to the problem at Tushar camp in his youth. “We’ve really gotten away from this practice.”
SITLA owns three other lots historically used for filming, including another Boy Scout camp outside of Moab.
“We’re proactively working with these tenants to get this thing on track,” Torgerson said. “We formed bonds. None of these sites have the complex issues that the Tushars site has. The trees and mountainous, remote terrain pushed up the cost of this one.”
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