The process to renew the Forest Service permit for the Northern Gila County Shooting Range has been started.
"The permit was first issued in 1981," Walt Thole of the Forest Service said. "It doesn't expire until 2006."
The county took the first steps toward renewing the permit at the Feb. 3 meeting of the Board of Supervisors when approval was given to start the process.
Thole said the range encompasses about 80 acres south of Round Valley.
The process to get the permit renewed involves meeting requirements of the Forest Service, he said.
"Environmental issues have changed since the permit was first issued," Thole said.
One of the requirements is likely to be developing a plan to deal with the lead and other waste material involved in shooting practice, he said. Others would be those necessary to meet Forest Service policies.
The shooting range is used by area law enforcement personnel to keep their skills fresh.
"In absence of the range here, my officers would have to go to Globe or Coconino County," said Gila County Sheriff John Armer. "We have them shoot quarterly, so we're saving travel time and overtime."
He estimates his officers spend 180 to 220 hours on the Payson range practicing with live fire.
"Without it, at least twice as many hours -- 360 to 440 -- would be involved," Armer said.
In addition to the scheduled shooting practice, the officers are also given 50 rounds a month to shoot on their own and they need an adequate range to shoot, Armer said.
Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said his officers use the range at least once a month.
"Once a quarter we're out there three days at a time for departmental training," Gartner said.
"Before we had the range, our officers would do their practice shooting at a granite pit or sawdust pit out of town," Gartner said. "Neither was really suitable.
"Without the range, we would have very few alternatives. We would have to go to Mesa or elsewhere and the cost would be tremendous."
Thole said the renewal process includes soliciting public input. He said letters from the public on the matter of renewing the permit for the shooting range will be sought later this year, probably sometime in the summer.