Range War

The Forest Service's Star Witness Is Full Of Holes. But That May Not Stop Smokey From Shutting Down The Tucson Rod And Gun Club.
By G.J. Sagi

ON SUNDAY MARCH 9, at 9 p.m., Mark Harris received a call many critics of the Tucson Rod and Gun Club consider 45 years overdue. Coronado National Forest Supervisor John McGee informed Harris, then the club president, that the Forest Service would be temporarily closing the facility for 60 days. At the end of the two-month period, McGee would determine whether the lease would be renewed.

"Several months ago I initiated an environmental analysis of the special-use permits for the target range in Sabino Canyon," McGee explained in a press release on March 10. "Part of the analysis required a detailed assessment of public safety. Last Friday afternoon I received the forensic experts' report. Their findings on public safety are so serious that I am suspending all shooting activities at the range until we can further evaluate the situation."

This "detailed assessment of public safety" was performed by Glen Shumsky, who gave the Forest Service a lengthy list of credentials for the job. However, throughout his résumé, Shumsky appears to have been lying through his teeth, says Tom Hardy, an attorney who is now serving as president of the Rod and Gun Club, and who has filed a federal lawsuit to force the Forest Service to allow the club to reopen.

Among Shumsky's many false claims:

• Shumsky claimed to have been named county health officer for Glasgow Air Base by Valley County (Montana) commissioners.

Hardy's research showed the county health officer must be an M.D., and that the real Valley County health officer had only designated Shumsky to attend conferences and make various inspections, including those of restaurants and bathrooms.

• Shumsky said he had "diplomate" standing and was a current member, with board certification, of the American Board of Forensic Examiners.

Under examination by Hardy, however, Shumsky admitted he earned his "diplomate" standing and certification simply by passing a true/false and multiple-choice take-home exam. Hardy says anyone can buy a membership in the American Board of Forensic Examiners from a web page.

• Shumsky claimed to be a professional engineer, but state records show he's not licensed as such.

• Shumsky claimed to have continuing education beyond the master's level at Montana State College, where he said he attended classes from 1963 to 1975, and that he'd done post-graduate work at Montana State University, Texas A&M, the University of Washington and the University of Arizona.

Under examination by Hardy, Shumsky admitted he'd never been admitted to any university. His "continuing education" consisted, according to Hardy, of attending annual sanitarians' conferences hosted by the university.

"Sanitarian conferences are not generally considered education beyond the master's level," notes Hardy.

• In fact, Shumsky never graduated from high school, dropping out in his junior year after failing English, Algebra I and II, biology and agriculture, and earning Ds in seven other courses.

Despite his many bogus claims, the Forest Service still hired Shumsky to perform the survey for $25,000--more than three times the original estimate for the job.

In November 1996, according to an inter-office memo obtained by The Weekly, Forest Service officials asked for permission to spend $5,000 to $7,000 for a public-safety and risk assessment.

"It looks like they went to six or eight possible experts," says Hardy. "Most of them didn't respond. Two of them indicated there is no way they could do an honest study in this short a time frame--they were talking 30 to 60 days, and they said there was no way it could be done. Then Shumsky came in and said, 'Sure, I can do it. It'll cost you $25,000.' "

Forest Service officials agreed to Shumsky's demand. Within a few months, McGee had the report he needed to shut down the range for safety's sake, even though there hadn't been a single serious accident on the range during its 44 years of operation.

THE BATTLE OVER the range has been brewing for years. Sabino Canyon is one of Arizona's premier outdoor destinations, boasting not only rare year-round stream flow but incredible scenery and Seven Falls--once named one of America's 10 best waterfalls in Life magazine. The canyon is just minutes north of Tucson, drawing thousands of hikers, picnickers, backpackers, sightseers and climbers every day and close to 1 million annual visitors.

That same proximity to Tucson also made the Tucson Rod and Gun Club a convenient range for target shooting. The organization quickly built the largest membership of any rod and gun club in Arizona.

Leased by the gun club since the early 1950s from the Coronado National Forest, the 17-acre shooting-range parcel had increasingly become the target of homeowners as construction moved north, up to and against the national forest. Many outdoor recreation enthusiasts added to the controversy by insisting a visit to Sabino Canyon should not be punctuated by the sound of gunfire.

Complaints about alleged noise weren't enough to oust the club, however. Suits against airports and similar loud operations are routinely dismissed in court under the "coming to the nuisance" doctrine.

Normally, federal officials cannot cancel a lease without giving the tenants an opportunity to correct problems. But Shumsky's report, alleging the hazards of the club, gave McGee a way around that provision: Lives were at stake.

McGee made his decision despite the fact that no one has been seriously injured since the range opened 44 years ago. By comparison, since 1977, when the Pima County Sheriff's Department began keeping such records, 27 people have died in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. If safety precautions are the issue, supporters of the club say, the efforts should be focused on the hikers, backpackers and bicyclists who flood the canyon every day.

The Rod and Gun Club responded to the shutdown by filing a lawsuit in federal court last month, asking for an injunction to allow the club to re-open until the lawsuit against the Forest Service is resolved.

The day the club filed its court action, the Forest Service signed a new contract with Shumway, paying him $100 an hour for his services, plus expenses.

Despite his high price, Shumway didn't turn out to be much of a star witness in court. Under painful examination by Hardy, he admitted his highest formal education had been a GED and that he'd misrepresented himself when applying for the contract.

Additionally, he admitted he had almost no knowledge of ballistics, was unfamiliar with any studies on ricochet behavior, did not know how far shotgun pellets would fly, had never designed a range and had never owned a copy of the NRA Range Manual before he won the Forest Service contract.

When McGee shut down the range, he said his hand was forced by the safety issues raised by Shumsky's report.

"I received the report late Friday (March 16) and its evidence was compelling and convincing,'' McGee told The Arizona Daily Star. "The range poses a significant safety hazard, people and property are at risk from bullets leaving the area, and I'm responsible.''

But on the stand, McGee admitted identical safety issues had been raised in Shumsky's preliminary report, which McGee had received on February 4--more than a month before he shut down the club. Hardy asked McGee why he hadn't acted when he received the preliminary report, given his belief the safety risk was so immediate.

"The only answer McGee could give was, 'Well, it was a preliminary thing and I read it but I didn't take action on it. It was just submitted so Mr. Shumsky could get paid.' That's what he said," Hardy tells The Weekly.

WHILE WE MAY never know the real motivation behind closing the range, it's clear the author of the safety report is absurdly under-qualified to make any calls regarding the dangers of the range. But inter-office email obtained by The Weekly show Forest Service officials have wanted to close the range for some time.

In addition to his "analysis" of the dangers of the range, Shumsky's report included statements from a Tucson-based real estate agent which suggest moving the club could increase nearby property values by 10 to 20 percent. McGee owns a home within the area affected by the range, as does Tom Quinn, the Santa Catalina Ranger District's chief ranger and a longtime vocal critic of the range.

At least one developer, Martin Stone, believes his own property values have been hurt by the club. In September 1996, Stone wrote to McGee (with copies of the letter going to members of Arizona's congressional delegation, including Sen. Jon Kyl, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jim Kolbe), complaining his proximity to the range had kept him from putting two 40-acre lots on the market.

"Each of these lots would otherwise be listed at a price of approximately $1 million," Stone wrote. "For the past two years I have been under the impression that the target range would soon be moved, but now I understand the decision to move is under reconsideration."

The letter was apparently prompted by an earlier email message from Quinn to McGee, which read:

"Martin Stone wrote to me yesterday and called this morning wanting to know what's happening. He said he will call/write Kyl, Kolbe, McCain about his property being unsafe to use and impossible to sell.... Stone (he's a millionaire many times over) suggested that he and perhaps others would be willing to contract for sound and safety studies of their own to dispute those done by the club. If done with our input, these could save us a bunch of money and be useful if done honestly by a reputable firm."

Unfortunately, after reputable firms declined to do the job, the Forest Service hired Shumsky instead, who concluded, "Our survey revealed a noise pollution impact on the community that is not imagined. Gunfire from the Sabino Range can be heard as far out as the area of Bear Canyon and Snyder roads on the east side of Sabino Canyon (two miles), the 7200 block of east Rocky Ridge, south of Kolb and Sunrise (1.5 miles), and well up the Esperero Canyon Trail to a point referred to in hiking books as 'Cardiac Gap' (1.85 miles direct)."

Shumsky's report is contradicted by a range consultant hired by the Rod and Gun Club, who concluded the noise was barely audible at nearby residences and that construction of relatively inexpensive devices would alleviate what little noise is escaping. The Forest Service has denied the club permission to do this work and other site improvement requests--including requests to remove all lead and improve safety embankments at the range.

U.S. DISTRICT COURT judge John Roll is expected to rule on Hardy's lawsuit to re-open the club in the near future. As of press time, no decision had been made.

If Hardy's lawsuit is successful, the range will be re-opened. If it is not, however, Hardy has little legal recourse. An appeal of the decision is unlikely to be heard by a higher court, because the range has only been temporarily shut down (although Forest Service officials recently doubled the temporary closure time, from 60 to 120 days). At the end of the temporary suspension, Forest Service officials can allow the final decision to drag on, drawing out the process and lessening the likelihood the Rod and Gun Club can appeal a final decision.

"They're pretty well set to squeeze out a not-for-profit group very nicely," Hardy says. "Is a not-for-profit group going to be around in a year or two if it doesn't have the whole reason for its existence? No."


Why The Rod And Gun Club Dispute Is Important.

THE REAL ISSUE to emerge over the U.S. Forest Service's closing of the rifle range in Sabino Canyon has nothing to do with whether there should be a range there or anywhere else. The real story is the behavior of those who work for a federal agency and the failure of the local media to report it. Apparently most media members have pre-determined that anybody who wears a Smokey hat must be a good guy and thus should be immune from the kind of scrutiny given other bureaucrats and politicians.

The two Forest Service employees who made the decision to close the range did so partially based on a real estate report that clearly states those, like themselves, who own property near the range would financially benefit by its closing. That's an obvious conflict of interest. If an elected official did anything remotely similar, the editorial boards of both daily newspapers would howl for their heads. On this issue, however, the silence is deafening. The media also have ignored the hiring of a totally inadequate consultant to write a report the Forest Service used as an excuse for "emergency" closing of the range.

The lack of due process given the gun club, the lies told by those in the Forest Service, the fraud upon the taxpayer by a consultant who lied about his qualifications should inflame the conscience of anybody who has one.

The major goal for the Forest Service is more parking for more tourists near the canyon entrance and enhanced development of the surrounding area. The rest is cover story. Most of our local reporters and editorial writers cover only what they've been handed in a news release by a bureaucrat. They've become patsies for government employees with their own agendas.

That's the real issue at stake in Sabino Canyon. TW

Photos by Lente S. Hancho

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