BLM: Sniper Course Not Authorized For Public Lands

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - Reports surfaced last week about a sniper school in Idaho's Skull Canyon. The story caught the attention of the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

Officials from both departments said the Advanced Mountain Sniper Course was operating on public ground without authorization.

Questions remained on Tuesday night, including whether or not program leaders knew they were in the wrong.

BLM officials pointed out boundary lines on a map.

"This is the first time we've heard of this," said Jeremy Casterson, field office manager for the BLM's Upper Snake region.

Public affairs officer Lynn Ballard said it appeared the activity was also happening in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

"If they were using a typical forest service or BLM map, I think the boundary lines are pretty specific," said Ballard. "They knew they were traveling within the national forest."

Course founder Buck Holly told reporters last week he was using private land to simulate Afghanistan terrain for sniper platoons getting ready to deploy.

The BLM said that private area is 1 mile by 1 mile and tucked deep within public lands.

"(There's) real popular recreation there," said Casterson. "(There's) hunting, hiking, ATV riding."

Both departments said a permit is needed to carry out a program like the sniper course.

"If the military ... the U.S. Department of Defense came to us, we could work through a process with them," said Casterson. "But we cannot permit that kind of thing as commercial activity."

Bureau managers said Holly requested a permit on Tuesday. He sent reporter Marissa Bodnar this statement via email: "At the end of the day, we are going through all the proper channels to ensure all the proper permits and approvals are in place."

Holly could not be reached for further comment.

Some news outlets questioned the legitimacy of the program. We left messages today for the Department of Defense and Idaho's National Guard, but the calls were not returned.

Holly and his crew left the grounds on Saturday. He said they may not return.

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