Protest filed against BLM’s plan for Sonoran Desert

Jul 16, 2012
Proposed plan reverses course on protecting resources from target shooting and neglects to protect important wilderness quality lands

Conservation groups filed a formal protest of the Proposed Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for the Sonoran Desert National Monument and Lower Sonoran Field Office. The protest focuses on a number of areas in which the Proposed RMP/Final EIS fails to comply with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) legal mandates, policies and overall responsibilities to manage and protect our public lands.

“The Sonoran Desert National Monument and its adjacent public lands deserve to be treated better than what the BLM is proposing,” said Phil Hanceford, Associate Attorney at The Wilderness Society. “The BLM has a legal obligation to follow its own science and we must hold it accountable when decisions are made to ignore its own rules, policies and scientific findings.”

Of concern to the groups is the BLM’s proposed alternative allowing for continued irresponsible recreational target shooting throughout the monument with no compelling rationale given for this shift in the agency’s decision from their original analysis. In a draft plan last fall, the BLM concluded that while there may be a few sites where target shooting could not pose as big of a risk to monument objects and resources, the use of these areas was not safe for public visitors to the monument. Based on BLM’s own scientific analysis, the preferred alternative in the Draft RMP was to make the entire monument unavailable to recreational target shooting due to its incompatibility with conservation of resources, as well as visitor safety in the monument.

“The Arizona Wilderness Coalition supports recreational shooting as a use of our public lands in the appropriate places and we look forward to working with BLM and local stakeholders to identify and designate those lands,” says Kate Mackay, Deputy Director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “Given that Sonoran Desert National Monument was set aside to protect irreplaceable antiquities, wildlife and other values, we feel recreational shooting belongs on lands where this mission is less paramount.”

In addition to the concerns about target shooting, the protest also addresses:

  • Management of lands possessing wilderness characteristics. BLM put forth a half-hearted effort to protect wild lands in the planning area; managing less than half of those found to possess wilderness qualities totaling around 14 percent of the entire area.
  • Management of cultural resources. BLM has only surveyed around 5 percent of the planning area for cultural resources and proposes to allow for uses that may harm irreplaceable petroglyphs and artifacts.
  • Designation of routes in the monument. The plan designated roads and trails without considering the minimum route network necessary for management of the monument.

When the Sonoran Desert National Monument was designated a national monument, it was set aside for the explicit purpose of protecting and preserving identified historic and scientific objects.  This means that the standard approach to multiple-use management does not apply to this monument, and any effort to adopt a management approach that is detrimental to its natural and cultural values would be in violation of original designation and federal land management laws.

“This plan is supposed to ensure protection of the Sonoran Desert National Monument‘s natural and cultural resources, but instead it puts at risk the land and the amazing resources it supports, from saguaro cactus and acuna pineapple cactus, to the diversity of archaeological sites, to the many species of wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, gray fox and mountain lion,” 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 and failing to protect the wildlife habitat and wilderness values of these lands.”

The BLM will be resolving the protests over the next couple of months and is obligated under a court-ordered settlement agreement to finalize the plan by September 15, 2012.

Groups joining the protest include: The Wilderness Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter, Archeology Southwest, Western Watershed Project.

Contacts

Phil Hanceford
The Wilderness Society
(303) 650-5818 ext 122
phil_hanceford@tws.org

Kate Mackay
Arizona Wilderness Coalition
(602) 252-5530

Sandy Bahr
Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter
(602) 253-8633