For years, Cherry Creek Canyon in the Ventura County backcountry has been littered with shotgun shells, bullet casings, shot-up televisions, furniture, and other trash. It’s the result of unmanaged, unauthorized target shooting that has turned the area into one of the most trashed sites in Los Padres National Forest.
On Oct. 29, 80 volunteers removed over 2.5 tons of trash — the area’s largest cleanup effort to date. Los Padres ForestWatch — in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and local sponsors Patagonia, Matilija Pure Water, Ace Hardware of Meiners Oaks, and Lowe’s — led the cleanup effort, which took place on a fall morning 30 minutes outside of Ojai.
The entire Cherry Creek watershed has been closed to target shooting since July, when a federal judge ordered the Forest Service to close the area. The closure is the result of a lawsuit brought by ForestWatch and other conservation organizations concerned about the trash and toxic heavy metals finding their way into the nearby creek, poisoning fish and other wildlife. Unlike the three other national forests in Southern California, the Los Padres National Forest is generally open to target shooting. Specific isolated areas of the forest have been closed over the years for public safety or environmental reasons, but across the vast majority of Los Padres, uncontrolled target shooting occurs. The problem arises when shooters leave these areas littered with targets and trash.
With the Cherry Creek area now closed, volunteers had the opportunity to clean up the area before winter rains washed it all downstream into Sespe Creek — habitat for the federally endangered steelhead trout. The Forest Service also installed new signage along Cherry Creek Road to ensure that visitors to the area know that target shooting is no longer permitted, and has increased law enforcement efforts in the area. “The Forest Service did the right thing by closing this dumping ground,” said Suzanne Feldman, conservation coordinator for ForestWatch. “Now we can start to bring the Cherry Creek watershed back to its natural splendor. It really is such a beautiful area; it’s a shame that irresponsible use trashed it so badly.”
Ultimately, any long-term solution to the shooting problem at Cherry Creek will require that the gate at the mouth of the canyon be closed year-round, preventing vehicles from hauling large amounts of trash into the area.
ForestWatch urges the Forest Service to institute a forest-wide ban on target shooting, similar to what the other three national forests in Southern California have implemented. Forest officials should implement such a closure immediately so that the problem doesn’t move to some other area of the forest. Target shooters are reminded to pack out what you pack in — including all bullet casings, shotgun shells, and targets. Do not shoot at trees or wildlife. And consider shooting at the well-managed formal shooting range down the road — the Ojai Valley Gun Club in Rose Valley.