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For Immediate Release, May 12, 2012

Contact:  Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club (602) 999-5790
Cyndi Tuell, Center for Biological Diversity (520) 623-5262 x 308
Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, (303) 650-5818 x 122

Feds Cave on Plan to Protect Sonoran Desert National Monument From Destructive Target Shooting

PHOENIX— The Bureau of Land Management has abandoned a proposal to ban target shooting in Sonoran Desert National Monument, a half-million-acre gem of the National Landscape Conservation System that merits special protection under federal law. Under political pressure from gun advocates, the BLM today declared its about-face; earlier plans for the monument admitted that target shooting was harming the resources the monument was established to protect.

"This plan isn't safe, it isn’t scientific, and it isn't sane. The BLM has caved to political pressure once again," said Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project.

“The Sonoran Desert National Monument contains a multitude of wonderful natural and cultural resources, all of which are threatened by the irresponsible shooting that is destroying saguaro cacti, damaging pictographs, and leaving a mess on the landscape,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “BLM is abdicating its responsibility to these lands and to future generations by allowing damage to the monument resources to continue unabated.”

Sonoran Desert National Monument was designated to protect a diverse array of Sonoran desert habitats and associated wildlife, plants and human cultural history. The monument plays a critical role in preserving the ecology of this region, containing not only dramatic mountain ranges but also the lowlands connecting them and critical wildlife linkages. 

“None of the concerns cited in the draft proposal released just last August have been eliminated. The agency has unfortunately sent a clear signal that the protection of habitat for gray fox, mountain lion, desert bighorn sheep and the Tucson shovel-nosed snake are not priorities,” said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The BLM needs to understand that shooting doesn’t have to occur on every acre of public land and some places are worth protecting.”

The proposed shooting ban would not prohibit all guns or hunting within the monument, only the use of guns for shooting at targets. Other forms of recreation would be readily accessible and even target shooting would be permitted on most of the BLM-managed lands nearby. In fact, in January, BLM officials testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands that more than 95 percent of the 245 million acres of BLM-managed public lands are open to recreational shooting, including 88 percent of BLM national monuments. 

“This is the definition of arbitrary,” says Phil Hanceford, an attorney with The Wilderness Society. “BLM is making a political decision to blindly ignore its own analysis which shows direct damage to the monument resources from this use.” 

Unfortunately, overuse and misuse threaten the monument resources.  Illegally-created motorized and mechanized vehicle tracks and trash dumps have sprung up across the monument, often associated with irresponsible recreational shooting. Plants are also destroyed, animals are injured or their movements impeded, and wildlife habitat is damaged. 

BLM expects that a proposed final plan will be released in late June.

Links to photos of damage on monument:

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