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Recreational Target Shooting on the Sonoran Desert National Monument
Shooting damage to a Mesquite tree.

Shooting damage to a Mesquite tree.

The Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Tread Lightly and others have been meeting to develop a program called “Partnership Initiative and the Sonoran Landscape Pilot – Recreational Target Shooting” project. (Really this is what it is called.)

The purpose of this project as far as I call tell is to develop an educational outreach program to inform irresponsible target shooters to not vandalize and litter public property and to find a place on the Sonoran Desert National Monument where target shooting can be conducted safely and without destroying the resources the monument was established to protect.

The project so far has taken place at the state and national level. Bureau of Land Management Sonoran Desert National Monument staff have had little or no input in this process as far as I can tell. I am not surprised considering the Sonoran Desert National Monument staff recommended no target shooting on the monument in the Draft Resource Management Plan.


Shooting damage to a Palo Verde tree.

The Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument has on several occasions offered to work with all the stakeholders involved. So far all that we have received are polite thank you letters, but no invitation to sit at the table.

One of the arguments voiced for having recreational target shooting on the Sonoran Desert National Monument is that Phoenix metropolitan area target shooters have to travel farther than what is judged as convenient to find a place on public land to target shoot.  This excuse would be plausible if there were not nearly one million acres of public land in the Lower Sonoran District located nearby. So near that in some cases target shooters can just across a road or highway. Others have interpreted a recreational target shooting ban as a threat to their 2nd Amendment Rights.

Located near the Sonoran Desert National Monument are two public shooting ranges. The Joe Foss Target Range in the Buckeye Hills has recently opened after the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department spent nearly $6.8 million dollars to make it available for public target shooting  (Arizona Game and Fish Department provided $40,500).  The Town of Gila Bend has a target shooting ranges that is open to the public. To use Gila Bend range shooters need to check in at the Gila Bend Town Hall. Many target shooters will pass a public target range on their way to the Sonoran Desert National Monument.

The Sonoran Desert National Monument was created in 2001 to protect the monument’s natural and cultural resources and the agency given this responsibility does not believe it can protect these resources and manage recreational target shooting. The Bureau of Land Management does have recreational shooting bans on the Ironwood Forest and Agua Fria National Monuments because protection of resources is incompatible with recreational target shooting. The same standard should apply to the Sonoran Desert National Monument and because of its location near the Phoenix metropolitan area a recreational shooting ban I believe is even more justified.

Even though I believe all parties should meet and work out a solution to the recreational target shooting situation on the Sonoran Desert National Monument I must admit that having to teach people that vandalism and littering are wrong and in fact crimes seems a little dubious. If they do not know this or care what their actions do I am not sure a presentation or a brochure will change their minds.

Consistent management guidelines must be developed and enforced on our Bureau of Land Management National Monuments and it appears that a recreational target shooting ban that is vigorously enforced is needed.


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