MT. HOOD NATIONAL FOREST -- A warning for folks heading into the Mt. Hood National Forest: Target shooters are taking aim in areas they should not be.

One such area is a section of old growth forest just outside of Estacada. Illegal shooters have moved in recently, mowing down trees with semi-automatic rifles, leaving their bullets, shell casings and trash behind.

Forest officials said it is was just one of many illegal shooting ranges popping up around Mt. Hood.

Not only is the illegal target shooting destroying the environment, it's also putting lives at risk including those of hikers, campers, even other shooters at nearby legal sites.

They re taking down trees with a gun, target shooter Jon Knowles explained. Boom-boom-boom-boom. Trees go down. It just clears all the trees.

We ve had a number of close calls, said Mike Chaveas, a district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service. In the last two years we ve had a least three, maybe four, close calls that we know of.

Oregon Wild used to lead hikes in the area, but won't anymore.

Driving past people shooting semi-automatic weapons does not feel safe to our members, said Erik Fernandez, Wilderness Coordinator with Oregon Wild.

Anyone caught illegally target shooting could face up to a $5,000 fine.

The USFS hopes in the next few weeks to come up with new clear rules to make it easier for them to crack down on the illegal shooters.

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