By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - Federal land managers on Wednesday banned exploding targets used by shooting enthusiasts from 12 national forests in four Western U.S. states, saying the devices could spark wildfires and are a threat to public safety.
The prohibition in Idaho, Nevada, Utah and western Wyoming lasts a year and comes as U.S. land managers report a rise in the number of blazes ignited by the targets, which emit a bang and a cloud of smoke when struck by a bullet.
The devices are blamed for nine wildfires on federal rangelands in Idaho in 2012, and five in 2013, said Josh Renz, a range technician with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Boise who specializes in wildfires.
In May the devices were banned from millions of acres of public lands in Montana, northern Idaho, North Dakota, and the northwestern corner of South Dakota that comprise the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Region.
Also in May a ban on the targets was put in place running until October - covering peak wildfire season - on land managed by the BLM in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Exploding targets contain chemicals that mix to produce a reaction that releases a loud noise and cloud of smoke or water vapor, depending on the brand, when hit by a bullet, said Dan Tanner, owner of Tannerite, a manufacturer in Oregon.
David Olson, spokesman for the Boise National Forest, said the heat generated can ignite tinder-dry grasses, brush and pines across the area's range- and canyon-lands.
"It's been demonstrated that there's a real potential for an exploding target to cause a fire," he said.
Tanner said his targets are safe and nonflammable. But he said some companies made devices that create dangerous flashes, and that some marksmen doctor targets to produce fireballs.
"The issue at hand has nothing to do with our product," Tanner said. "What the Forest Service is doing is akin to banning Bic lighters because someone may misuse them and start fires."
Policies on exploding targets vary by state. They are broadly outlawed in Maryland, where an explosives license is needed for purchase and use.
Restrictions for exploding targets on public lands have led to a decline in their sales at Doug's Shoot'n Sports near Salt Lake City, said sales manager David Larsen.
"Most people don't want to cause any problems out in the woods," he said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)