The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's decision to ban recreational shooting from the Ironwood Forest National Monument is guaranteed to be unpopular with a segment of vocal gun enthusiasts, but it is a thoughtful decision that is best for the natural area and all its users.
The BLM studied the park and determined that shooting had caused severe damage to petroglyphs, trees, saguaros and other cacti across the monument, located in the Avra Valley northwest of Tucson.
The damage was significant and widespread enough that the BLM decided the best course of action was to halt shooting in Ironwood. Given the ample evidence that irresponsible shooters have laid waste to multiple saguaros and left their casings around as litter, the bureau had to act.
Shooting enthusiasts contend that they should be able to use the public lands as they wish. A local NRA representative told the Star's Tony Davis that the gun-advocacy organization will pursue "every avenue" to change the BLM decision.
Recreational shooting has its place - but too many shooters have demonstrated that they do not take care of the natural environment they seek to use.
Many other people - hikers, families on picnics, sightseers, tourists, those seeking the peacefulness of the desert - have the right to enjoy their public lands without the loud noise and safety concerns of gunfire.
Davis quoted Lahsha Brown, executive director of Friends of Ironwood Forest National Monument, as saying, "I personally spoke to quite a number of people over the last few years, who would go out there, hear shooting, and they were not sure if it was friendly fire or something to do with the (border-related) smuggling going on out there. A number of people told me they didn't go out there because they didn't feel safe."
Shooting enthusiasts have other places to go in Pima County, so the change in Ironwood does not deprive anyone of the chance to go target shooting. For example, the BLM decided not to ban shooting on the Sonoran Desert National Monument north of Ironwood.
Pima County also has three public shooting ranges: the Tucson Mountain Park Rifle and Pistol Range, the Virgil Ellis Rifle and Pistol Range and the Southeast Regional Park Shooting Range. The Tucson Mountain and Southeast Regional ranges are supervised by range staff and charge a small fee. The Virgil Ellis range is unsupervised.
The Coronado National Forest announced recently that it would fence off several shooting sites in Redington Pass. These sites are already trashed, so target shooting won't inflict more damage on the desert, according to Davis' reporting. The national forest is considering an application from the Tucson Rod and Gun Club for a managed shooting range in that area.
The BLM made a considered decision at Ironwood Forest Monument. Some Pima County residents will be inconvenienced by having to find a different location to pursue their hobby, but they're not without other options.
When it became clear that recreational shooting was causing serious damage to precious cultural, historical and natural resources within Ironwood, the BLM acted to protect those treasures. It is the right decision.
Arizona Daily Star