Arizona outdoor marksmanship jeopardized: shooting sites to close


Staff member
[Note: Arizona has introduced a state sovereignty bill to protect us against federal interference (HCR 2024), and so have several other states; news on that soon in my next Page Nine report.]

I attended the BLM "public input" session on Feb. 3, 2009, concerning planned land closures at Table Mesa Road, one of the last remaining sites for outdoor marksmanship in the area north of Phoenix. About 75 people attended, half concerned with being able to drive the area, and many of the rest seeking to preserve land for desert marksmanship.

It doesn't look good for shooting outdoors.

Or for four wheeling, or rock crawling, on this 11,000-acre playground of desert currently enjoyed by countless outdoor enthusiasts. In a beautiful twist on the classic "We're from the government and we're here to help you," one BLM staffer said, "People like it now, we can make it better," with closures, restraints and penalties for non-compliance. Recognizing the insanity of that statement, one attendee shouted back, "Then leave it
alone!" to laughter and applause. BLM was unfazed.

The meeting was a virtual carbon copy of the placate-the-public dog-and-pony shows held by the U.S. Forest Service back in 2001, before they summarily closed 80,000 acres that had been used since WWII by Phoenix-metro residents for target practice and motorized outdoor recreation. The Second Amendment doesn't mean much if you don't have places to go shooting.

The wall held a large-scale map of the Table Mesa Rec Area, backed up with computer projections of similar maps. Numerous popular dirt roads were marked in red for impending closures, and red spots scattered like measles showed planned shooting-area closures. BLM was gathering input before they issue their "results" in seven weeks, at the end of March. Why so soon? "We have to get this done."

"We're doing it for safety," one of the cheery young enthusiastic civic-minded BLM bureaucrats said, with nods from the other three or four government workers in the room. When asked how many injuries or deaths have occurred in the past five or ten years they replied candidly (after being hammered for an answer), "None. But it could happen." The crowd was not pleased about any of this. "Why not close down I-17, since there could be accidents on it?" one person asked.

Audience questions were repeatedly side stepped or unanswered. Bureaucratic bafflegab substituted for straight talk, tangents drew us away from the topic, desert biology lessons replaced meaningful dialog, as we the people sat obediently, literally begging not to have our land taken away from us. The young federal employees did their best at public mollification, justification and rationalization for why they have to deny access and close off lands to the public.

In fairness, the immensely popular Table Mesa area shooting activities are disorganized to a frightful degree, with cross fires and rounds traveling without backstops, in an area heavily used by off-road vehicles. One attendee told of pulling a boat through the area and arriving at his destination to find a bullet hole in the vessel, and several people told of
hearing bullets whiz by. I've been there -- the safety violations are everywhere, and law enforcement is nowhere. Why isn't BLM arresting the safety violators? Isn't that their appropriate role in all of this?

If BLM's negligence is apparent anywhere, its lack of law enforcement in this area would have to top the list. They know criminal activity takes place -- gang bangers, illegal dumpers, destruction of environment, unsafe gunfire -- and their response omits the exercise of their law enforcement duties.

When Arizona territory had 100,000 people, outdoor shooting was a non-problem. Now, with 3.5 million in Maricopa county alone, and precious few spots remaining for marksmen to congregate, the problems increase.

Still, the proposed solutions -- close off lands to public use -- instead of any kind of law enforcement ('We don't have enough staff, so we have to close areas down instead') is dubious at best, and a quick, cheap, expedient insult to the public in any case. Destruction of property, reckless endangerment, 'illegal trajectory' (a generic name for shooting in an unsafe manner, which can be charged as a number of different crimes) are
all shooting offenses that could and should be dealt with through enforcement of existing laws. But since that would be difficult and BLM is not inclined to go that route, the map of proposed closures hung on the wall.

No one got the impression that the proposed closings would be any different from the actual closings -- public input was public relations, little more. A few motor clubs and tour operators made an extra effort to keep access open to isolated routes and preferred locations. The entire flat sand dry wash running through the tract -- a thoroughfare for off
roaders -- is scheduled for closure.

A full hour of the two-hour meeting was lost on a discussion of desert tortoises. Not currently endangered, BLM is scared that if EPA gets into the act, tons of regs will complicate everyone's life, so they are bending over backwards to make sure that doesn't happen. The whole site is "Category 2" habitat... it may have desert tortoises.

When any of the vehicle enthusiasts asked where the animal's habitats actually are, BLM waffled and danced, any area could have them, so no area could be declared OK, but they know how to spot them, but they don't have any maps that show them, even though they've surveyed the area with GPS units and mapping. Say what?

They have no plans to make maps that would let you know what's safe to tread, but the animals prefer granite boulders to basalt ones for shelter, but any boulder area could have them, you have to know what to look for, and you probably don't but BLM does. We're from the government and we're here to bamboozle you.

They recommended walking the barren desert for routes you might want to drive or make trails, then come hat-in-hand to the office to see if tortoises are known to be there. It was an outrageous affront to the citizenry, and a predictable bureaucratic non-solution, plus it ate up plenty of time needed for everything else. The long lecture by the biologist on tortoise living habits was fascinating. Did you know they move slowly?

One poor soul asked if it's OK to move one out of a dirt roadway if he's driving through. Can you picture this? You're in the middle of nowhere but you feel compelled to ask a bureaucrat 50 miles away if you can move a land turtle to drive by without squashing it. After way too long, they told him that was fine, and to make sure it doesn't pee on you when you do (it happened to one guy). Like the animal, we were relieved.

Where to Shoot

Five areas were marked with green circles as safe for shooting, and having been there, I can tell you some areas are perfectly situated while others, as I mentioned, a responsible shooter would avoid. This is quite remarkable, with BLM actually suggesting these could be designated safe shooting areas. I wish I could find that marked up wall map on their website, it doesn't seem to be there.

One staffer suggested they could accommodate six sites, with 40 spots per site, and that they could be "minimally developed" (his phrase) with berms and backstops, or even benches and gongs (metal targets that ring when hit), as part of the plan to close all the rest of the sites.

How would they close the sites with no law enforcement presence (this is, after all, wide open remote desert off I-17)? That would be done by blocking physical access on the roads shooters would use to get to the places.

I've seen this subterfuge before -- 'we'll mitigate closures by opening designated areas' -- so I asked the obvious question. "Do you have budget and authority to designate and 'minimally develop' shooting sites at Table Mesa?" I got a shotstorm of evasion, so I asked again. More evasion. I asked again, insistently, until the answer came. Well, after they issue their proposal, they have to do an environmental assessment of it, and
after that's approved, they have to get the top brass to sign off, then they would have to make a proposal for shooting sites to the brass in D.C. to get possible funding and authority for blah blah blah.

The developed-site notion was a red herring, a bone designed to throw the public off the scent. They put it in front of us, knowing they lacked authority or funds and were entirely unlikely to get any.

Afterwards, privately, one staffer confided that there is enormous pressure within and without the agency to end shooting on public lands. These local guys are working to preserve at least something. If you think that waiting for Washington D.C. bureaucrats to approve funding for marksmanship in the desert is going to get you anywhere, you deserve a compass with no needle.

It was demoralizing to watch the pathetic pleading for permission to access public lands. All those members of the public, held off politely by a few salaried government workers. It's true that, "There's little more dangerous than a little bureaucrat with a little power." They're in control of us, instead of the other way around. They didn't lord it over us, but
it's the way it was. Made you wish you had a pitchfork.

The next meeting will be held at the same place on Feb. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. If I'm in town I'll be there. If not, some of you should attend. (Deer Valley Senior Center, 2001 W. Wahalla Lane, Phoenix, take the 19th Ave. exit south 1 block off Rt. 101.)

Author: Alan Korwin
Source: Read It News

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