The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has finalized a plan that will allow Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument (SDNM) to remain open to recreational shooting.

In August 2011, BLM officials announced plans to close the entire 486,400-acre SDNM to all recreational shooting but backed off of that plan in May over objections from the NRA, Safari Club International, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Arizona’s hunting and shooting community.

On Sept. 14, the agency announced the issuance of Records of Decision (RODs) and Approved Resource Management Plans (RMPs) for the Lower Sonoran Field Office and the Sonoran Desert National Monument, which set a framework for the management of 1.4 million acres of public lands located in south-central Arizona, about 50 miles southwest of Phoenix.

Both RMPs clearly state that the Lower Sonoran area (930,200 acres) and the SDNM will remain open to recreational target shooting.

However, the RMP for the SDNM also states that recreational shooting “may be or may become restricted or prohibited in specific areas where public safety and resource conflicts exist or become identified if active management and cooperative efforts fail to meet resource and safety goals, including the need to protect Monument objects.”

“It is encouraging that BLM reversed course on the blanket closure and listened to public land users and groups that represent them like the NRA,” said Susan Recce, NRA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources. “The plan appears to strike an appropriate balance between providing public shooting opportunities and protecting what BLM calls ‘monument objects and values.’ Right now we’re cautiously optimistic because we don’t know exactly how the plan will be implemented.”

The plan lists a series of administrative actions that will be taken to ensure that monument resources and visitor safety are protected. With respect to shooting, these administrative actions will entail:

  • the development of partnerships and volunteer opportunities with local clubs, organizations, and communities to maintain and monitor routes, recreation sites, and other areas;
  • coordinating with partners and nearby land owners/managers to develop regional shooting ranges outside the SDNM boundaries to support concentrated recreational target-shooting activities;
  • the development of partnerships with interested shooting enthusiasts to educate the shooting public about appropriate shooting behaviors and ethics;
  • the creation of educational materials and signage to inform the public about how to conduct target shooting activities in ways that avoid impacts on natural resources and monument objects;
  • increased patrolling and monitoring of target shooting sites (of which there are currently 63 on the monument); and
  •  the creation of supplementary rules in order to provide BLM law enforcement with full authority to enforce certain restrictions on the monument with regard to target shooting.

BLM indicated that these supplementary rules, though yet to be officially drafted, could include rules governing suitable targets, as well as prohibitions on shooting glass objects, electronics, household waste, explosive devices/hazardous materials, and monument plants, rocks, signs, buildings or infrastructure; prohibitions against shooting across roads and trails; the establishment of legal shooting hours; and requirements that shell casings, targets, shrapnel, clay pigeon fragments, and all other shooting-related debris be picked up and removed.

“On its face it appears what BLM is suggesting is reasonable,” Recce said. “Asking shooters to use safe and appropriate targets and to pick up after themselves are things that responsible shooters do anyway. What is in question is how BLM will go about enforcing these restrictions.”

BLM also included an administrative action in the plan pledging to collaborate with the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, other interested stakeholders, and the public when making management decisions impacting recreational shooting in the future.

The Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council is an official advisory group established by the second Bush Administration to advise the federal government on policies related to wildlife and habitat conservation. The NRA is an active public participant at the council’s meetings.

“BLM’s pledge to collaborate with the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council is a key aspect of this plan, as is BLM’s offer to partner with shooters and shooting groups,” said Recce. “We are encouraging shooters who use the SDNM, as well as local shooting clubs and NRA Members, to take BLM up on its partnership offer and volunteer to promote responsible shooting and to help care for the areas open to shooting on the monument.”

Tread Lightly!’s Respected Access is Open Access campaign, an initiative of the Federal Lands Hunting and Shooting Sports Roundtable, which NRA helped create in 2006, offers tips for recreating responsibly on public lands. To learn more about the Respected Access is Open Access campaign, please visit www.respectedaccess.org.

The decision to keep the SDNM open to shooting was made despite a joint protest filed by six groups—The Wilderness Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter, Archeology Southwest, and Western Watershed Project—in July, claiming BLM’s decision to allow continued recreational shooting was arbitrary and failed to analyze the impact of recreational shooting on visitor safety and monument resources.

This protest was dismissed by BLM Acting Director Mike Pool. Nine protests were received in total, all of which were carefully considered, though ultimately denied or dismissed, clearing the way for the Approved RMPs.

Under the terms of a 2011 court-ordered settlement between BLM and the Western Watershed Project, BLM had until Sept. 15, 2012, to resolve the protests and complete its RMP for the Sonoran Desert National Monument.

The full text of the RODs and Approved RMPs for the SDMN and Lower Sonoran Desert Field Office are available at www.blm.gov/az.

For those interested in volunteering to help BLM maintain and monitor shooting areas on the SDNM, please visit www.blm.gov/az/st/en/res/vol.html. You can also contact monument manager Rich Hanson at (623) 580-5500 or write to him at 21605 N. 7th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027-2929.

The SDNM is not the only national monument in Arizona where recreational shooting activities have been under attack. NRA filed a letter of protest against BLM’s 2011 decision to ban all recreational shooting in the 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson. BLM’s resolution of that protest is pending.

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