Suit Claims Feds Are Allowing Protected Desert to Be Trashed

Sonoran Desert’s saguaro cactus forest.

(CN) – Environmental groups are attempting to stop the government from opening up 90% of a federally protected desert monument to target shooting in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Arizona.

The Sonoran Desert National Monument, located 60 miles south of Phoenix, Arizona, is comprised of a biologically diverse desert comprised of an extensive saguaro cactus forest, three mountain ranges and a number of archaeological and historic sites.

In 2015, the Bureau of Land Management was ordered by the U.S. District Court of Arizona to re-evaluate its decision to allow target shooting in all areas of the monument, finding that the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

The Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and The National Trust for Historic Preservation filed Thursday’s lawsuit in response to the agency’s March 2018 revised decision that allows target shooting in 90% of the monument. The groups say in the complaint that the BLM failed to “engage in new analysis” of the decision, as previously ordered by the court.

“BLM completed a new ‘re-evaluation’ but neglected to prepare a new analysis, collect new data, or conduct new surveys,” the lawsuit states. “Nor did BLM attempt to supplement, update, or revise its previous target shooting analysis.”

The environmental groups state in the lawsuit that opening up the monument to target shooting will place much of the area at risk, as recognized by BLM employees.

“BLM authorizes target shooting in roughly 90 percent of the Monument, including within the area’s iconic saguaro cactus forests, occupied wildlife habitat, and areas known to contain high densities of cultural and historic sites,” the complaint states. “These are areas that BLM’s own staff deemed unsuitable for target shooting. Damage to the Monument’s objects from target shooting is well documented and continues to this day.”

The groups are asking the court to vacate the BLM’s decision and order it to take steps to repair damage done by target shooters.

Thomas Hulen, executive director of the Friends of Sonoran Desert National Monument said in a statement last year that damage caused to the monument by target shooters is “heartbreaking.”

“Furthermore, irresponsible target shooters leave literally tons of trash behind, which costs the public thousands of dollars to clean up,” he said.

The agency did not immediately respond for a request for comment made after business hours.

The environmental groups are represented by Matthew Bishop and Kelly Nokes of the Western Environmental Law Center.

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