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Desert Is no Place for Target Practice, Suit Says

PHOENIX (CN) - North America's most biologically diverse desert, the Sonoran Desert National Monument, should not have to endure recreational shooting, three groups say.

In a new complaint, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Wilderness Society and Archaeology Southwest claim that the Bureau of Land Management's new resource-management plan allows recreational shooting on the monument in violation of a presidential proclamation and the Federal Land Management Policy and Management Act protecting the land.

The monument, located in Maricopa and Pinal Counties about 50 miles southwest of Phoenix, contains 486,400 acres of bureau-administered lands. It is home to "prized saguaro cacti forests, high quality habitat for Sonoran pronghorn and desert tortoise, designated wilderness areas, and popular historic trail corridors and cultural areas frequently used by visitors to the monument for sightseeing, camping, and hiking," according to the complaint.

The bureau's new resource-management plan allows recreational target shooting throughout the monument, despite the agency's studies that show "that opening the monument to recreational target shooting - as authorized by the management plan - has resulted and will continue to result in significant and direct adverse impacts to the monument's objects and natural resources," the environmental groups claim.

No one from agency was available to comment in light of the federal government shutdown.

The agency's geographic information system analysis found that "approximately 389,989 acres or 80 percent of the monument could be adversely impacted by recreational target shooting and is thus unsuitable for such activity."

Unsuitable areas in the monument for shooting include its palo verde-mixed cacti and desert tortoise habitats, and the Juan Baustista de Anza National Historic Trail, the complaint claims.

According to the lawsuit, the monument's cacti community provides "forage, nesting, and cover habitat for numerous wildlife species and are particularly vulnerable to damage from shooting. Intentional or incidental destruction of saguaros and trees is common at shooting sites."

The desert tortoise population may also be at risk since it "excavates and inhabits burrows in rocky hillsides against which target shooters often place targets. Sustained target shooting may cause direct mortality to desert tortoise and indirect impacts to tortoise habitat through loss of forage and cover due to damage or loss of vegetation, increased vulnerability to predation as predators are attracted to areas of trash and garbage, and ingestion of plastic and other trash."

The "premier historic cultural site" of the monument, the Juan Baustista de Anza National Historic Trail, additionally places visitors at risk by bringing them "into close proximity with existing and potential shooting sites by the mountainous terrain and the level terrain to the east and west of the mountains which does not provide suitable backstops to the corridor," the lawsuit claims.

The environmental groups seek a ruling that recreational shooting violates a presidential proclamation and the FLMPA, among other federal laws. They are represented by Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center in Helena, Mont.

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