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News briefs from the Front Range

Forest Service could close Rampart shooting area

Signs at Rampart Shooting Range are peppered with bullet holes, trash litters the grounds, and shooters risk wounding humans in an unsupervised shooting area that has been open since 1989, according to a National Rifle Association review of the site.

That review has prompted U.S. Forest Service leaders to assemble a team that will consider options for improving conditions at the range west of Colorado Springs. Alternatives include having it supervised, moved or even closed.

Brent Botts, district ranger for the Pikes Peak Ranger District, says the goal is to have a "safe and healthy shooting environment out there. ... What do we have to do to achieve that?"

Based on findings from a team of scientists, shooting experts and foresters studying the range, Botts is due to make recommendations in October, after which there will be a public comment period.

Among other hazards, the NRA review notes that bullets regularly ricochet over backstops at the range, and many berms set up there are eroded. AL

Udall to meet with Pion Canyon ranchers

U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, the state's only member of the House Armed Services Committee, has agreed to meet Sept. 1 in Trinidad with ranchers and other residents about the Army's proposed Pion Canyon expansion.

Udall, also a candidate for 2008 to replace Sen. Wayne Allard, told the Pueblo Chieftain that the Army has not yet made a convincing case for acquiring more than 400,000 additional acres in Las Animas County.

"That's not a secret and was reflected in the House vote we had [in June] in approving an amendment banning any funds for expansion next year," Udall said to the Chieftain. "I supported that amendment and I look forward to hearing from the ranchers about the impact of the expansion on their way of life."

Udall has asked the House Armed Services Committee to conduct hearings about Pion Canyon.

"It's important to have them explain to the committee how this expansion is justified," Udall told the Chieftain. "There is a grave concern that expansion would cut the heart out of the economy there." RR

Army: Blame suicides on personal problems

The suicide rate among Army soldiers has increased by more than 47 percent since 2004, coming at a time when soldiers are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times and for extended periods.

Yet Army mental-health experts conclude that while combat tours contributed to anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, they are not to blame for the 99 active-duty suicides in 2006.

Col. Elspeth C. Ritchie, psychiatry consultant for the Army surgeon general, instead cited factors such as failed personal relationships and occupational, legal and financial problems.

Fort Carson suicide statistics were not released to the Independent, which this week requested the information. "The numbers for each installation or unit will be not released at this time," Ann Ham of the Army's national Medical Command stated in an e-mail.

An Army press statement said that despite the rising number of suicides in its ranks, its suicide rate is lower than the rate of a similar sample of the U.S. population. The Army's release of information coincides with efforts by officials to publicize prevention programs such as the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline (800/984-8523).

The Army recently began new mental-health training for all soldiers and aims to hire 250 mental-health professionals. MdY

Local colleges respond to Suthers' opinion

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has opined that citizen children of Colorado's illegal immigrants should be eligible for in-state tuition at the state's colleges and universities.

Tom Hutton, spokesman for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, says the statement provides clarity to colleges, adding that he's not sure how many UCCS students, if any, the ruling will affect.

Anthony Kinkel, president of Pikes Peak Community College, says his school already had a policy that mirrors Suthers' statements.

"We believe we need to comply with the United States Constitution ... it doesn't say anything about people's parents," Kinkel says. "It says if you're born here, you're a citizen."

Some question the impact Suthers' opinion will have. Parents of students younger than 22 will still need to prove they've been living in the state for at least a year.

"I think you're going to have some critics who are going to say, 'You are just helping us identify who these parents are,'" says Elsa Dias, a PPCC professor.

As a citizen of Portugal living legally in the U.S., Dias is a favorite confidant of students from immigrant families. She thinks the opinion may turn out to be largely symbolic, but adds it's an encouraging symbol nonetheless. JAS

Rep. Salazar's loss, Rep. Udall's gain
Tara Trujillo has bounced around a lot of Democratic offices lately. The one-time spokeswoman for Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff last week began a new role as U.S. Rep. Mark Udall's communications director.

To get there, she simply crossed a street in Washington, D.C., leaving her position as U.S. Rep. John Salazar's communications director.

"Congressman Salazar was kind enough to let me go work for his colleague," Trujillo said via phone Monday, adding that she is excited about her new opportunity. Trujillo had worked for Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat, since January.

Trujillo, who will not be a part of Udall's 2008 campaign for U.S. Senate, expects to field plenty of media calls regarding the Eldorado Springs Democrat's legislation and policy. She has previously worked for KOAA-TV and radio stations in Pueblo. MdY

More woes for west-side commuters

First, it was construction on the Cimarron Street and Colorado Avenue bridges. Then the tourists came, causing more traffic. Some even managed to wedge their RVs into the concrete barricades at Cimarron Bridge, shutting off access in the middle of rush hour.

Don't think it could get any worse? Think again.

Colorado Avenue's pavement suffered over the harsh winter, and now the city needs to fix all those potholes. The city plans to resurface Colorado Avenue from Walnut Street to 30th Street.

Work is planned from Aug. 24 to mid-September, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Construction will be halted for Labor Day. The street will have at least one lane open in each direction throughout the process.

City spokeswoman Carrie McCausland says the repaving project was scheduled to avoid rush hours and tourist traffic.

Colorado Avenue needs to be repaved all the way through downtown, McCausland says, but the city is waiting on those fixes because current construction is already having a big impact on traffic. JAS

Two more Fort Carson soldiers lose lives in Iraq

The war in Iraq has claimed the lives of two more Fort Carson soldiers. Spc. Justin R. Blackwell, 27, of Paris, Tenn., and Pfc. Jeremy S. Bohannon, 18, of Bon Aqua, Tenn., died Aug. 5 in Baghdad and will be memorialized at the Army post Thursday afternoon.

Both were assigned to the 59th Military Police Co., 759th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade. The soldiers died as a result of "wounds suffered from enemy indirect fire," according to a Defense Department statement.

More than a third of the 38 Fort Carson troops killed so far this year have lost their lives since "the surge" offensive began in June, though none were specifically deployed as part of it. The surge aims to stabilize Iraq, and top military leaders will provide progress reports next month.

A memorial for another soldier, Staff Sgt. Robert R. Pirelli of Franklin, Mass., will take place Aug. 30 at the post's chapel. The Green Beret died in Iraq on Aug. 15 of "wounds sustained from enemy small-arms fire," according to the Defense Department.

Nationwide, some 3,600 troops have lost their lives since the war began in 2003, with 220 of the fatalities from Fort Carson. MdY

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon, J. Adrian Stanley and Michael de Yoanna.

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