VICTORY! Protecting Sonoran Desert National Monument from Irresponsible Shooting

The Sonoran Desert National Monument in southwest Arizona is one of the most biologically diverse areas of the North American desert. The area is home to large saguaro cactus forest communities and three wilderness mountain ranges that provide excellent habitat for a wide range of wildlife species including big horn sheep, endangered Sonoran pronghorn, and desert tortoise. The monument also contains significant archeological and historical sites.

The Bureau of Land Management evaluated whether or not to authorize recreational target shooting in the monument, determining that 100% of the monument was unsuitable for recreational target shooting. For yet to be fully understood reasons (the decision was made in September 2012 during the election and intense pressure from NRA), when issuing the new management plan for the Monument, BLM went counter to its recommendations and opened the whole monument to recreational target shooting. We sued and won, forcing BLM to reevaluate its decision to allow shooting everywhere in the monument.

Unfortunately, BLM decided to protect only 10% of the monument, leaving 90% open to recreational shooters, who have irresponsibly damaged centuries-old saguaro cacti and irreplaceable petroglyphs. That’s not good enough, and we returned to court to force BLM to honor its analysis showing that shooting is inappropriate on this delicate landscape. In 2022, we secured a legal agreement forcing the agency to consider protecting:

  • designated wilderness and lands with wilderness characteristics,
  • the Indigenous Komatke Trail, known for its many pottery shards, and a half-mile buffer on the north side of the trail,
  • the Vekol Valley,
  • the portion of the monument formerly part of the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, and
  • areas with monument objects including saguaro cacti and petroglyphs that could be adversely impacted.

In 2024, the agency closed 99% of the monument to shooting, representing a huge victory for these sensitive ecological regions, important Indigenous cultural resources, and public safety.

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