Sonoran Desert National Monument
Sonoran Desert National Monument is located south of Goodyear and Buckeye and east of Gila Bend, Arizona. Created by Presidential proclamation on January 17, 2001, by President Bill Clinton, the 496,400 acres monument is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. The BLM already manages the land, however under monument status, the level of protection and preservation of resources is enhanced. Sonoran Desert National Monument protects but a small portion of the Sonoran Desert, which is 120,000 square miles, and extends well into California and the country of Mexico. The North Maricopa Mountains, South Maricopa Mountains and the Table Top Wildernesses protect the richest regions of desert habitat from any future development.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released for public comment a plan that will determine what lands within the Sonoran Desert National Monument (SDNM) will be closed to target shooting.
Sonoran Desert National Monument is open to target shooting, with the exception of 10,599 acres temporarily closed by a court order in a lawsuit filed against an earlier BLM plan that would have kept the entire SDNM open to shooting. The lands closed are on the north side of the Sonoran Desert National Monument along the El Paso Natural Gas Pipeline right-of-way that parallels BLM Road 8000.
It also extends along both sides of BLM Road 8001, adjacent to the wilderness boundary, before terminating at BLM Road 8006. The court order also requires the BLM to complete the management plan by September 2017.
What is Unique About The Sonoran Desert
The Sonoran Desert National Monument is unique among monuments in that it’s establishing Proclamation specifically mentioned the impacts of livestock grazing on Monument “objects.” The Proclamation mandated the closure of all grazing allotments south of Interstate 8 at the expiration of their permits. The BLM was charged with determining compatibility of livestock grazing and resource protection for the grazing allotments north of the Interstate, which it has thus far not completed.
The Sonoran Desert is thought to have the greatest species diversity of any desert in North America, and that diversity occurs over relatively fine spatial scales. The Sonoran Desert is home to at least 60 species of mammals, more than 350 bird species, 20 amphibians, some 100 reptiles, and about 30 species of native fish. More than 2,000 species of plants have been identified in the Sonoran Desert, and each of the three physiological groupings of vascular plants dominates one or more major biotic communities.
Why Are We Restricted On The Sonoran Desert Monument
We ask the question, “What is the federal definition of temporary?” as the closure will soon have its 10th year anniversary.
The team at SRT has reviewed the law suit, the allegations and statements from the Department Of Interior that WAS NOT in favor of any recreating shooting restriction to begin with, and we now find BLM has once again failed in their NEPA and EIS filing that lacks an effective management and enforcement plan of the their very own.
Once again the force of the envirolitigants is dictating to the American public what it can or cannot do and where we are free to roam. The restrictions imposed by the United States Forest Service are commonly known as “Travel Management Plans” and referred to as “Travel Restrictions” by the outdoor community. Management by restriction is the only method available due to limited or no federal funding for enforcement of violators.
Those violations are committed by irresponsible OHV riders and recreational shooters that violate the law and trash the landscape. They leave the miles of established primitive roads blatantly destroying vegetation, littering the landscape with bullet casings and leaving remnants of targets. The problem does exist. The common denominator also exists that federal agencies don’t have funding to manage or control the problems we face and the result is “Management By Restriction”.
What Are The Proposed Restrictions
For Shooting On The SDNM
As a result of suit filed in March of 2015 with The U.S. District Court in Arizona, the court has ordered the BLM to temporarily close 2.1 percent — 10,600 acres — of the Sonoran Desert National Monument (SDNM) to recreational target shooting. During the closure, the BLM will conduct a court-ordered analysis of the impacts of such shooting on the Monument. Licensed hunting continues to be allowed; all state regulations apply. Approximately 95 percent of the 12.2 million acres of public land managed by BLM in Arizona remain open to recreational target shooting.
According to the BLM, they are committed to meeting the management challenges surrounding recreational target shooting on public lands, including determining where and how this activity can be conducted responsibly. They are engaging public and private stakeholders in discussions of collaborative options and acceptable solutions.
Public Input Requested for SDNM Restrictions
In January 2016, the BLM requested public input for revision of a portion of the Sonoran Desert National Monument Resource Management Plan. A 60 day process that ended on March 21, 2016. Based on the public comments and suggestions received during scoping, the BLM will develop and consider a range of alternatives related to recreational target shooting on the SDNM.
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) completed with the RMP amendment will analyze the impacts of each alternative. The Draft RMP amendment and Draft EIS will be available for public review and comment.
Sonoran Desert Restrictions Proposed Plans by BLM
Currently, the nearly 500,000-acre Sonoran Desert National Monument is open to target shooting, with the exception of 10,599 acres temporarily closed by a court order in a lawsuit filed against an earlier BLM plan that would have kept the entire SDNM open to shooting. The court order also requires the BLM to complete the management plan by September 2017. The draft plan presents five alternatives as follows:
Alternative A – the “no action” alternative continues the 1988 Lower Gila South Resource Management Plan without change, which means that target shooting would be allowed anywhere within the SDNM.
Alternative B – the court order closure would become permanent, affecting 10,599 acres or 2.1 % of the SDNM.
Alternative C – the BLM’s preferred alternative would allow target shooting in the Desert Back Country Recreation Management Zone only and partially lift the court order closure as addressed in Alternative B. The effect is that 54,817 acres or 11% of the SDNM would be closed to target shooting.
Alternative D – target shooting would not be allowed in designated wilderness, lands managed to protect wilderness characteristics, and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail Recreation Management Zone, which would close 320,317 acres or 66% of the SDNM to target shooting.
Alternative E – the SDNM would be entirely closed to target shooting.
The plan with its five alternatives can be found at BLM Website
What Are The Travel Restrictions Under BLM Proposal for the Sonoran Monument?
In addition to the recreational shooting restriction travel restrictions also have been implemented as a result of a Decision Memorandum, Temporary Road Closure, March 08, 2007 stating in part “During the temporary closure of these vehicle routes, primary access routes will be restored by knocking down and pulling into the routes the high berms that have been caused by speeding all terrain vehicles. Adjacent areas of OHV damage, vehicle tracks, barren core areas, and other areas of human disturbance will be reclaimed by hand raking, “vertical mulching,” harrowing, seeding (native plants only), and watering to re-establish the route surface and to reduce dust emissions. During the closure, all access points will be prominently posted as closed with the closure order and a map. If you are ~from region~, visitor information stations with bulletin boards are posted at all primary vehicle access points to advise the public of the purpose and extent of the temporary closure, goals of the reclamation work, proper OHV use, and other information as appropriate. Short lengths of wire fencing will be erected across selected closed vehicle routes to block vehicle access to the project area. Reclaimed areas may be posted with “Area Closed” signs to protect such work and provide information to the public when the vehicle routes are re-opened to public use.