by Frank Miniter - Friday, August 31, 2018
Recreational shooting was almost barred from a huge, 496,400-acre swath of public land in Arizona. The area is the Sonoran Desert National Monument, which is located near Phoenix. The land was made a national monument in 2001 by then President Bill Clinton. At the time, Clinton called the national monument a “magnificent example of untrammeled Sonoran desert landscape.”
Making the area into a national monument brought increased layers of regulations that were almost used to end all recreational shooting on the land.
Your National Rifle Association and a collection of other pro-freedom groups got together and reminded the federal government that public lands are there for Americans to use. One way Americans use their valuable public lands is by shooting their firearms recreationally.
The federal bureaucracy looked like it was moving toward banning all recreational shooting on the monument lands.
“This Bureau of Land Management (BLM) used the same Resource Management Plan process to close the Ironwood Forest in New Mexico and Arizona to shooting,” says Susan Recce, Director of NRA-ILA's Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources Division. “I took the issue to the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and asked for the Council’s involvement. The Council did get involved, including having several members of the Council visit shooting sites on the Sonoran Desert National Monument. As a result of the Council's action, the BLM backed down from the closure alternative.”
Recce says the NRA, with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and Public Lands Foundation, then recommended an alternative that would leave open a specific area to shooting where recreational shooting had historically taken place and where it would not affect cultural or natural resources. The Arizona Game and Fish Department also weighed in to sway the BLM to keep most of the lands open to recreational shooters.
This pressure from groups representing so many millions of Americans looks like it changed what could have been a land management decision of the BLM that would have diminished the recreational opportunities of Americans to lawfully target shoot on public lands.
Instead of proposing that the entire national monument be closed to Americans who want to shoot their firearms, the BLM has recommended closing 53,300 acres of the Sonoran Desert National Monument to recreational shooting instead (known as the “ROD/RMP Amendment”). It would keep the remaining 443,000 acres open to recreational shooting. This proposed policy won’t impact hunters when they are hunting on these lands.
The Sierra Club quickly came out against allowing Americans to do what they’ve always done: shoot their firearms recreationally on these public lands. It says it is worried that allowing people to shoot could harm plants and wildlife in the monument. The thing is, citizens have long shot their firearms in these places and the NRA and other groups are arguing for an alternative plan that will specifically protect cultural and natural resources and balance the needs of recreational shooters with other visitors’ needs. The Sierra Club, meanwhile, doesn’t think the interests of recreational shooters also should be considered.
The proposal from the BLM is in line with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s directive ordering the federal government’s land agencies to increase opportunities for hunting, fishing and shooting on public lands where possible.
However, this is hardly the final word on the topic. This is a proposed decision. Currently, there is a 30-day period open for the public to voice opinions on the proposal. There is also a 60-day legal review open by the Arizona governor, said Adam Eggers, a spokesman for the BLM.
The BLM says, “The ROD/RMP Amendment also ensures appropriate resource protection by providing an adaptive management framework for addressing target shooting impacts in areas where shooting is allowed. The plan includes mitigation measures for monitoring and managing cumulative impacts.”
“We listened closely to our many stakeholders throughout the planning process and utilized updated data for analysis, resulting in a decision that supports the Bureau’s effort to balance public use with our mandate to protect Monument objects,” said Leon Thomas, BLM’s Phoenix District Manager. “Our plan amendment also ensures safety for families in the most heavily used area of the Monument.”
What has occurred so far with this debate clearly shows how important associations representing freedom-loving Americans are—such as the NRA—to keeping our freedom to own and use firearms.
Editor’s Note: The opening or closure of federal lands to recreational activities as in the case of the Sonoran Desert National Monument is driven by the land management planning process, which, in turn, driven by the National Environmental Policy Act.
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