Six environmental groups have filed a joint letter protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) plan to allow recreational shooting to continue in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument.
The Wilderness Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter, Archeology Southwest, and Western Watershed Project submitted their formal protest to BLM’s Proposed Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Sonoran Desert National Monument on Monday, the final day of the 30-day protest period.
The groups contend that allowing shooting on the monument poses a risk to visitor safety and natural resources.
Last August, the BLM indicated in its draft RMP/EIS that it planned to close the entire 486,400-acre monument to all recreational shooting. However, at a conference call of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council on May 11, Robert Towne, acting director of BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, announced that his agency was backing off of the planned closure.
The plan encompasses the Sonoran Desert National Monument and other nearby lands managed by the BLM’s Lower Sonoran Field Office—a total of nearly 1.4 million acres of public lands located southwest of Phoenix in parts of Maricopa, Pinal, Pima, Gila and Yuma counties.
The preferred alternative (Alternative E) in the proposed RMP/Final EIS issued by the BLM in June establishes that the monument will remain open to recreational shooting. Rather than instituting a complete shooting closure, the plan outlines management steps that will be taken to ensure monument objects and resources are protected. These steps include increased monitoring of shooting and other recreational activities; identifying safe shooting areas; and the development of educational materials and signage to inform the public about suitable targets, range clean up, and unnecessary damage to natural resources, such as cacti and other native plant species.
Rich Hanson, manager of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the BLM believes it can manage recreational shooting without a blanket ban across the entire monument.
In addition, the plan states that the BLM will collaborate with the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, other interested stakeholders, and the public to consider management of recreational shooting in the future.
In a letter sent to BLM Acting Director Mike Pool on Monday, Susan Recce, NRA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources, expressed NRA’s support for the plan’s preferred alternative. NRA vehemently opposed BLM’s original plan to close the entire monument to shooting.
“Recreational shooting is a legitimate, safe and historic activity on public lands, including national monuments,” Recce wrote.
“The BLM is a signatory to the Federal Lands Hunting, Fishing and Shooting Sports Roundtable MOU signed in 2006. The purpose of the MOU is to develop and expand a framework of cooperation for planning and implementing mutually beneficial projects and activities related to hunting, fishing and shooting conducted on Federal Lands.
“Identifying safe shooting areas in the Monument, developing best management practices, monitoring, establishing partnerships to manage the sites, and providing educational materials all fall within the framework of the MOU.”
Recce also expressed NRA’s willingness to work with BLM on future issues related to hunting and shooting.
“In addition, the NRA has staff and membership resources that can be drawn upon to assist the BLM,” Recce wrote. “We continue to support our partnership with the BLM, not only in shaping the future of recreational shooting in the Monument, but to help guide the future of shooting, as well as hunting, on other lands managed by BLM.
“Again, the NRA supports BLM’s decision to revise Alternative E and leave areas of the Monument open to recreational shooting.”
Continued recreational shooting on the monument is also supported by Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Under the terms of a 2011 court-ordered settlement between BLM and the Western Watershed Project, BLM has until Sept. 15, 2012, to resolve the protests and complete its RMP for the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
Related: AZ: BLM Reverses Course, Won’t Ban Shooting