BLM should stand up against vandalism of our national monuments

In the United States our leaders occasionally designate historical and naturally significant areas as national monuments.

The idea here is that certain places, like the Statue of Liberty and Dinosaur National Monument, deserve heightened protection from potentially harmful uses, such as development and vandalism. One of the most recent additions to our national monument system, the Sonoran Desert National Monument, faces a direct and immediate threat to its integrity and the agency entrusted with managing the monument would like to turn a blind eye. The Bureau of Land Management can, and should, do better at protecting the values of the monument.

The Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona is home to some of America’s oldest and prized saguaro cactus forest. This biologically diverse region exemplifies a striking desert setting and is home to three distinct mountain ranges, all separated by wide desert valleys. The nearly half a million acres that make up the Sonoran Desert National Monument are also the resting place for many  significant archaeological and historic sites, wilderness areas and remnants of several important historic trails. Now imagine that special place being ripped apart  by careless management and bullet holes from vandalistic target shooting.

There is deep concern and disappointment surrounding the recent announcement that the BLM intends to reverse course on the proposed recreational target shooting prohibition in the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The BLM’s plan is plainly inconsistent with the agency’s scientific analysis and threatens to not only endanger the incredible rock art, saguaros and other irreplaceable resources of this monument, but also the agency’s commitment to protect the many treasures of the National Landscape Conservation System.

In a letter from more than 30 groups to Interior Secretary Salazar, we are encouraging the BLM to think twice about their plan and not step away from their own science and recommendations.

Last August, the BLM released its draft resource management plan (RMP) for the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The draft included a scientific analysis of target shooting suitability in the monument applying criteria that looked at resources and monuments objects, visitor safety, nearby uses and facilities, motor vehicle accessibility and physical suitability of sites for target shooting. The analysis concluded that while there may be a few sites where target shooting may not be as big of a risk to monument objects and resources, the use of these areas were not safe for public visitors to the monument. Based on the 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 incompatibility of the use with the conservation and visitor safety of the monument.

Then the BLM changed course. This spring the agency made clear that it intends to ignore its own recommendations and put the monument, it’s visitors and resources at risk. Little explanation has been given for this change and there is no indication that BLM is basing this decision on anything other than political pressure.

We are not opposed to recreational target shooting on public lands where appropriate. Making the monument unavailable to target shooting would not affect hunting in the area. Around 2,356,600 acres, or approximately 78 percent, of BLM-managed lands adjacent to the monument are open for target shooting, not to mention more than 95 percent of BLM lands nationwide. Combined with gun ranges and other areas, the public has significant opportunities for recreational target shooting.

The BLM now has the opportunity to heed its own warnings—target shooting in this area is unsafe and threatens the resources and values that the monument was established to protect. In the BLM’s final plan they have the opportunity to adopt their own preferred alternative in the name of public safety and to ensure that the treasured saguaro and ancient petroglyphs are around for generations to come.