Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Creeping control

I see the busybodies at the Bureau of Land Management have their skirts in a bunch over recreational shooting on government land. Specifically, they want to ban recreational shooting at the Ironwood Forest National Monument in southern Arizona. The proposal to ban target shooting appears in two out of four strategies that fall under the monument's proposed resource management plan--including the BLM's preferred Alternative C.

In the plan, the BLM justifies the proposed ban by claiming, vaguely, that target shooting poses a risk to people engaged in dispersed recreation on the monument's 129,000 acres. In an interview with The Arizona Republic, monument manager Patrick Madigan insists that the real problem is shooters who plink at saguaros or who are little more than well-armed litterbugs. "People are bringing their trash out and shooting their trash, or they shoot someone else's trash," said Madigan.

Now, anybody who shoots knows that there are, in fact, meatheads who see every tree and rabbit as a potential bullseye, and who seem to own an endless supply of old TV sets to shoot and abandon in the forest or the desert. These people make up a small, but disproportionately visible minority of shooters, most of whom pride themselves on leaving their shooting range looking much as they found it. Unfortunately people who pick up after themselves are simply not as noticeable as folks who leave a mess.

But other recreational activities are equally plagued by subsets of jackasses. Most backpackers are responsible types who police their campsites and douse their fires; A few leave trash scattered behind them on the trail and a very few can't light a match without torching old-growth forest. Most mountain bikers are solid citizens who stick to established trails; a few carve endless pathways across fragile environments and spook hikers and horseback riders.

If you're going to base policy on the conduct of the minority of jerks, you're going to end up banning public access to the outdoors--or trying to anyway.

But BLM officials aren't talking about cracking down on all recreational activities; they've rested their crosshairs on target shooters alone. They've even exempted hunters from the proposed ban, with no evidence that hunters are immune from the meathead element that plagues other outdoor uses.

That's why I suspect that the ban is a test balloon for a more comprehensive ban on shooting on public land well beyond the boundaries of the Ironwood Forest National Monument. Government officials have never been terribly comfortable with armed civilians, so picking on litterbugs who happen to shoot at this one national monument could well be a test run of a strategy for squeezing responsible shooters off of federal land everywhere. Hunters are left out of the ban to divide the opposition--an old tactic that works often enough to keep it alive and well. I would guess that, if the ban passes with a minimum of opposition, hunters would be added at a later date.

But again, every recreational activity draws its share of idiots who can be used to smear other practitioners through guilt by association. If shooters can be pushed off of public land, so can enthusiasts of any other activity that draws the disfavor of the current crop of government bureaucrats. Dirt-bikers and ATV-riders aren't exactly loved by government land-managers; they're already under attack and would make easy targets for a future ban.

And it doesn't necessarily stop there. There really are people who want to make the wilderness off-limits to humans. Do you think the same people who can turn litterbugs into grounds for banning shooters could maybe point to firebugs as reason for booting backpackers out of the forests?

Better to head this nonsense off early than to have to fight a bigger battle later.

You can contact the BLM at: AZ_IFNM_RMP@blm.gov

Or you can write to:

Mark Lambert
Project Lead
BLM Tucson Field Office
12661 E. Broadway Blvd.
Tucson, AZ, 85748



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