September 24, 2019
BLM, Canyon Country District Bears Ears Management Plans Attn: Lance Porter
Canyon Country District Office
82 East Dogwood, Moab, Utah 84532
Re: Comments on Proposed Closure of Target Shooting on Certain Lands within the Monument
Dear Mr. Porter,
Please accept and fully consider these comments regarding the proposed target-shooting closure within Bears Ears National Monument planning area, submitted by The Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (undersigned groups). Our members care deeply about the management and conservation of the cultural and natural resources within the planning area, and about the ability of the public to enjoy our public lands safely. We appreciate this opportunity to comment and appreciate the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service’s (USFS) commitment to ensuring public safety within the planning area and protecting public resources for current and future generations.
As a preliminary matter, the undersigned groups are not acquiescing to Proclamation 9681, 82 Fed. Reg. 58081 (Dec. 4, 2017), which we maintain is illegal and will be overturned in ongoing legal proceedings, including those brought by many of the undersigned organizations. A president has the authority to create a national monument under the Antiquities Act but only Congress has the authority to revoke or reduce a national monument. We make no admissions with regard to Proclamation 9681, waive no litigation rights, nor otherwise waive any rights or privileges. We are simply exercising our right to participate in this public planning process. Nonetheless, these comments must be fully considered and applicable as part of the administrative record to the current planning process and environmental analysis.
The undersigned groups support the BLM’s decision to prohibit target shooting at campgrounds, developed recreation sites, petroglyph sites, and structural cultural sites within the planning area. See Bears Ears National Monument Proposed Monument Management Plan (Proposed MMP) at 2-14, 17. This is an important step towards properly protecting monument objects, including cultural resource sites, paleontological resources, soundscapes, wildlife, and outdoor-recreation opportunities. As stated in our previous comments, we believe the Monument must be entirely closed to target shooting to adequately protect monument objects, ensure public safety, and comply with applicable laws. See TWS et al., Protest of BENM Proposed Monument Management Plan p. 11, submitted Aug. 26, 2019; TWS et al., comments for the Draft BENM Management Plan p. 38, submitted Nov. 15, 2018. As such, BLM should expand its proposed closures to encompass the entire planning area.
Title IV of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (The Dingell Act) recognizes that some public lands must be closed to target shooting “for reasons of public safety, administration, or compliance with applicable laws.” Public Law 116-9 § 4103(a)(1).
A. BLM must protect Monument resources, objects, and values over discretionary uses, such as recreational target shooting.
The BLM’s foundational statute, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), commands that where “a tract of such public land has been dedicated to specific uses according to any other provisions of law it shall be managed in accordance with such law.” 43 U.S.C. § 1732(a). As a national monument, the planning area is protected as part of the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). BLM is directed to manage the lands “in a manner that protects the values for which the components of the system were designated.” 16 U.S.C. § 7202(c)(2).
The Monument was created pursuant to the Antiquities Act of 1906, 54 U.S.C. § 320301 et seq., to protect a variety of resources, objects, and values, including: cultural sites, paleontological resources, soundscapes, wildlife, and recreation opportunities described in Proclamation 9558, 82 Fed. Reg. 1139 (Dec. 28, 2016). The BLM’s mandate is to manage the area primarily for this purpose. BLM must manage the planning area to preserve the monument objects, and target shooting, as discussed throughout these comments, threatens these values and has the potential to destroy or degrade monument objects. Therefore, compliance with the Antiquities Act and Proclamation 9558 (regardless of modification by Proclamation 9681, which we maintain is illegal) requires the BLM to expand its proposed target-shooting closure to the entire Monument area.
The Bears Ears landscape was initially protected in large part for its “[a]bundant rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, and countless other artifacts [which] provide an extraordinary archaeological and cultural record.” Proclamation 9558. The undersigned groups support the prohibition on shooting at petroglyphs and structural cultural resource sites. The limited shooting closures proposed by the BLM are inadequate to comply with FLPMA and should be expanded to cover the entire planning area, as provided by the Dingell Act, to fully protect the area’s cultural, prehistoric, and historic legacy. See Public Law 116-9 § 4103(a)(1).
B. BLM must survey and prioritize areas with cultural resources as mentioned in the Proclamation and pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
As Proclamation 9558 notes, “It is also the less visible sites … that tell the story of the people who lived here. Historic remnants of Native American sheepherding and farming are scattered throughout the area.” These sites, and the landscape that supported the Native peoples who created them, must also be protected from the detrimental impacts of target shooting.
The limited closures under consideration would leave the many unidentified or unmarked cultural resource sites entirely unprotected. Only 8.2% of the BLM-administered lands in the Shash Jaa´ Unit have been surveyed for cultural resources; projecting from the 991 known archeological sites within this area, “there could be an estimated 12,023 sites on BLM- administered lands in the Shash Jaa´ Unit.” See Proposed MMP 3-6. The Indian Creek Unit, which contains 103 known archeological sites, could have more than 600 more unidentified cultural sites. Id. at 3-7. Given the risk of looting and vandalism, many of the previously identified sites are unmarked, adding to the difficulty of administering the current shooting closure. The BLM’s plan could leave over 90% of the area’s cultural resources unprotected.
Recreational target shooting occurs predominately along routes available to motorized use, not just at campsites and developed recreation sites. In addition to closing campsites and developed recreation sites to target shooting, the agency should analyze potential impacts from target shooting to resources throughout the entire monument.
The adverse effects to historic properties manifest itself in two ways:
- If a site is present within some distance (30 meters) of a road available for motorized use, pulling off the road and setting up a target area often results in an intensive, albeit localized, impact area. The intensive nature of the use would invariably lead to some loss of cultural integrity to the site that is irretrievable. Section 106 of the NHPA requires that BLM to identify and evaluate the significance of historic properties based on National Register criteria. Most historic properties are considered potentially eligible and qualify under Criterion D. As such, recreational target shooting in close proximity to roads available to motorized use are likely adversely affect historic properties (i.e., any damage is potential loss of information content). BLM is obligated to avoid, minimize or mitigate the adverse effects. A mitigation and monitoring protocol that runs the risk of irretrievable damage to historic properties is not appropriate mitigation in this context.
- Certain sites such as petroglyph or pictographs as well as standing structures such as an old cabin, are a magnet for bullets. People like to shoot at targets and they don’t necessarily restrict themselves to the targets they bring with them. We highly recommend that the BLM acknowledge in the EIS that these resources are at risk up to a ¼ mile from a road and prioritize these areas for management of recreational target shooting as well as law enforcement.
BLM should commit to a Class III inventory 30 meters on either side of the centerline before recreational shooting along the road or a portion of the road can be considered. Once cleared, a second analysis should be made evaluating the existence of standing historic structures within ¼ mile of the road along with a Class III survey of any rock outcrops or hillsides within ¼ mile of the road.
As acknowledged by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, BLM must survey for cultural resources along roads available for use in national monuments because of the potential impacts to those resources caused by the use of those roads. Montana Wilderness Ass’n v. Connell, 725 F.3d 988 (9th Cir. 2013). The same holds true here due to the impacts from recreational shooting to cultural resources resulting from road access. With regard to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, the court held that “BLM failed to make a reasonable effort to identify historical and cultural resources” and “[b]ecause we hold that the NHPA requires Class III surveys solely with respect to roads, ways and airstrips, the government’s concerns about the costs of surveying the entire 375,000-acre Monument do not apply.” Id. at 1009.
C. The agencies must prioritize protection of paleontological resources in the Monument pursuant to Proclamation 9558.
“The paleontological resources in the Bears Ears area are among the richest and most significant in the United States.” Proclamation 9558. However, the planned shooting closures would do nothing to protect them. The BLM acknowledges that target shooting presents a risk to paleontological resources, many of which were primary reasons for the Monument’s designation and are identified as monument objects requiring protection. Proposed MMP 3-34. While the agencies considered alternatives that would have prohibited shooting near paleontological resources, the preferred alternative does not, and the agencies offer no explanation for their decision not to protect these important monument objects. Id. To fully comply with its existing mandate, the BLM and USFS should expand the target-shooting closure.
D. The agencies must prioritize protection of the natural soundscapes in the Monument pursuant to Proclamation 9558.
Target shooting within the planning area would also compromise its “rare and arresting quality of deafening silence.” See Proclamation 9558. The area’s natural quiet is a crucial aspect of the landscape. Target shooting in “one of the most intact and least-roaded areas in the contiguous United States” is clearly inconsistent with the Monument’s “identified value of natural quiet, as specified in the Proclamation.” See Proposed MMP 3-41.
The noise from target shooting is also disruptive to the wide variety of wildlife species the area supports, which are themselves protected as monument objects. See Proclamation 9558. While the BLM acknowledges that target shooting could “result in adverse noise disturbances to wildlife species,” Proposed MMP 3-98, and “adversely impact migratory birds,” Id. at 3-101, it does not explain how its limited closures will protect wildlife, violating its responsibilities under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), FLPMA, and the Antiquities Act.
E. The agencies must prioritize protection of quiet recreation opportunities in the Monument pursuant to Proclamation 9558.
In addition to the “numerous objects of historic and of scientific interest” within the planning area, Proclamation 9558 recognizes its “world class outdoor recreation opportunities, including rock climbing, hunting, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and horseback riding.” The listed activities—which do not include target shooting—are all congruent with the BLM’s commitment to “the proper care and management of natural quiet that enhances recreational experiences.” See Proposed MMP 2-13. Target shooting is not.
Rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, and whitewater rafting do not take place primarily at campgrounds and developed recreation sites; closing these limited areas to target shooting does nothing to prevent potential conflicts. In these situations, the BLM has decided that “management actions would generally favor maintenance and enhancement of the [activities listed in the Proclamation].” See Proposed MMP 2-13. Thus, the BLM’s stated goals—which include “providing for recreational and visitor services while ensuring the proper care and management of cultural resources” and “[m]anag[ing] recreation to protect human health and safety”—support expanding the target-shooting closures to the entire monument. Id.
F. The agencies must prioritize public safety in the Monument.
The Dingell Act specifically recognizes the need to manage public land for public safety, which may entail target-shooting closures. Public Law 116-9 § 4103(a)(1). The undersigned groups support the agencies’ decision to prohibit target shooting in campgrounds and developed recreational areas, a necessary first step in managing for visitor safety. However, many of the “world class outdoor recreation opportunities” the area offers occur outside of these protected zones. A wider closure area is needed to make the public lands safer for the public.
The Proposed MMP notes that “[w]here problem areas occur regarding target shooting, the agencies would post signs notifying visitors of restrictions and would consider implementing supplemental rules.” See Proposed MMP 2-14 and 2-17. Unfortunately, such potential problem areas would only be identified after a problem occurs—and problems related to target shooting can have serious consequences. To avoid irreparable damage to monument objects, protect public health and safety, and fully comply with existing laws, the BLM should expand its proposed shooting closures to encompass the entire planning area.
Thank you for considering these comments on the proposed target shooting closures. We look forward to working with the BLM and the USFS as the planning process for the Bears Ears National Monument continues. Please keep us informed of publication of documents related to these closures and opportunities to provide comments and recommendations throughout the process.
Katie Meehan, Policy and Planning Specialist
The Wilderness Society
1660 Wynkoop Street, Suite 850
Denver, CO 80202
Neal Clark, Wildlands Program Director
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
PO Box 968
Moab, UT 84532
Tim Peterson, Utah Wildlands Program Director
Grand Canyon Trust
Ryan Beam, Public Lands Campaigner
Center for Biological Diversity
331 S 1000 E, Apt. 4
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
Western Watersheds Project – Wyoming Office
PO Box 171
Bondurant, WY 82922
Karimah Schoenhut, Staff Attorney
50 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Chris Krupp, Public Lands Guardian
301 N. Guadalupe St., Ste. 201
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Ernie Atencio, Southwest Regional Director
National Parks Conservation Association 307 W 200 S, Suite 5000
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
201 I Street, NE #805
Washington, DC 20002