Gun club loses long-term permit in flap over Indian sacred land

Santa Barbara, California (AP) 9-07

A gun club has lost a 20-year permit from Los Padres National Forest in a dispute over the club’s proximity to land sacred to American Indians.

The Department of Agriculture reversed a decision by Los Padres officials to grant a long-term permit, based on appeals from the Coalition to Save Husahkiw-Chumash Windcaves and the group’s supporters. They argued that the gun range is on a mountain sacred to the Chumash Indians that has valuable cave paintings, sacred geographical formations and other cultural properties.

“This is a sacred site to native peoples,” said Monique Sonoquie, a coalition spokeswoman. “Many families and groups use the site for ceremonies and prayers, and having the gun range as close as it is not only unsafe but disrespectful to the sacredness of the land.”

The Winchester Canyon Gun Club has been under a special permit to use the land as a target range since 1962.

For now, the gun range will remain open under an annual contract with Los Padres.

Gun club spokesman Erwin Ward said its members funded a $50,000 environmental study that found no evidence that its location had any serious effect on the caves. The cave site is nowhere near any active shooting ranges, he said.

In the past, shooting took place directly over the caves. But in 2000, that area was closed. It is fenced off, but the area is frequented by sightseers as well as traditional native practitioners.

Until the mid-1980s, target shooting was allowed in most of the Los Padres National Forest, but safety and litter concerns forced restrictions to designated areas.

Information from: Santa Barbara News-Press,