Fatal Shooting in Gifford Pinchot
A beargrass picker was shot and killed in what appears to be a hunting accident in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo courtesy National Park Service.
Here at WTA, we've been closely following a news story that has developed in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest over the past few weeks.
In early November, Juan Rojas Cortez, 30, of Tacoma was picking beargrass in the Skookum Meadows area of the Gifford Pinchot when he was shot and killed. The Skamania County Sheriff's office has been investigating the case and last week it was announced that a 55-year-old school teacher from Camas, Washington was arrested on suspicion of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting.
In an article in the Columbian, the Skamania County Prosecutor said "I don't think this was intentional homicide," and the article goes on to say that first-degree manslaughter involves recklessly causing the death of another person. Another article in the Columbian says the accused shooter, Craig Sjorberg, turned himself in after hearing the description sheriff's officers had publicized in the case.
Cortez was harvesting beargrass at Skookum Meadows, an area several miles north of Lone Butte and not far from the Squaw Butte Trail, when in he was shot in the torso and died. Two coworkers found his body and reported the death to authorities. Beargrass is commonly harvested and sold to the floral industry.
The incident is possibly the second case of a fatal hunter-bystander accident in Washington state this year. Hiker Pamela Almli was fatally shot by a 14-year-old hunter on the Sauk Mountain Trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in August.
While such tragic incidents are rare, it clearly demonstrates that all users of our National Forests--including hikers and hunters--have a shared responsibility to take safety precautions during hunting season. Obviously, hunters and target shooters are responsible for making sure they are absolutely certain of their targets before pulling the trigger. And those shooting firearms need to take care that stray bullets aren't fired into trails, roads or other populated recreation areas. Certainly, there is no 100-percent guarantee of safety when hiking in areas where shooting is allowed. But those using firearms on public lands need to take extra care. The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has issued some safety guidelines here.
In addition, hikers and those who use National Forests need to also take responsibility to improve their safety. WTA has a section on our website about safe hiking during hunting season. You can find information on hunting seasons here. It's recommended that you wear bright clothing (hunter orange or fluorescent yellow are unmistakable) and talk to hunters you meet to alert them to your presence. Also, educate yourself about where hunting takes place. Unfortunately, there is currently no good online map describing where hunting is and isn't allowed. As a rule, National Forests generally allow hunting and target shooting, while hunting is not allowed in National Parks or Washington State Parks.
WTA is currently exploring ways to increase the safety of all users of public lands in 2009, including working on a bill to require young hunters to be accompanied by an adult, and recommending that agencies such as Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife develop more user-friendly information sources for non-hunters.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Post a comment to this blog.