Target shooting is incompatible with the philosophy underlying the creation of national monuments, and should be prohibited in Ironwood Forest National Monument.
The federal Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, monitors conditions at the 129,000-acre Ironwood monument west of Marana — at least on paper.
Since the monument's creation in 2000, the BLM has never had the manpower to police the area adequately. The terrain is a rough desert of rolling hills and craggy mountains. The nearest access from Tucson is on Avra Valley Road west of Interstate 10. Roads that wind through the monument west and north of the former Silver Bell mine are rutted, rocky or rippled by scrubboard.
In recent years, parts of the monument — a monument is basically a small national park — have become a dumping ground where residents bring dead water heaters, TV sets and computers, among other debris.
And more recently, those who dump their garbage are followed by those who come to shoot the garbage. Putting a few rounds in an old computer monitor is evidently a satisfying pastime for some shooters.
Others don't stop at the garbage. As the photos accompanying a story in Monday's Star by Tony Davis show, some target shooters enjoy blasting holes in giant saguaros and firing at other native vegetation.
The BLM is preparing a management plan for the monument, and it wants to ban target shooting. It should do so.
Target shooting is appropriate in some areas, but there is nothing in the enabling legislation for national monuments to indicate it would be consistent with the values the monuments are designed to protect.
The creation of national monuments is made possible by the Antiquities Act of 1906. The law authorized presidents to proclaim "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" as national monuments.
The motivation for the law came mainly from those who wanted to protect Indian ruins and other archaeological sites from being destroyed. But adding the phrase about objects "of scientific interest" expanded the preservationist intent to landscapes and habitats.
The proclamation creating Ironwood Forest National Monument states at its conclusion: "Warning is hereby given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, destroy, or remove any feature of this monument and not to locate or settle upon any of the lands thereof."
Clearly, some shooters are not taking this admonition seriously. That creates potential danger for hikers, bird watchers, ranchers, hunters and law-abiding gun enthusiasts.
The problems at the Ironwood monument stem from the fact that while it seems isolated and wild, it is no more than a half-hour from the edge of a metropolitan region with a population of 1 million. Marana, the nearest community, is one of the fastest growing towns in Arizona.
The combination of rapid population growth and unregulated target shooting is an invitation to tragedy. A safer place for a shooting range must be developed.
The problem at the Ironwood monument might go away if the BLM's Tucson field office had enough officers to patrol the area on a regular basis. It does not.
Four officers now are responsible for the roughly 650,000 acres of federal lands that fall under the jurisdiction of the Tucson field office. Two patrol Ironwood Forest National Monument, which is minimal enforcement. The shooters know this. So, too, do drug smugglers and coyotes bringing illegal immigrants into the country from Mexico.
There's not much the BLM can do in the immediate future about a budget that does not provide it with adequate funds to police all the lands for which it is responsible. It's now recruiting four more officers.
Banning target shooting is a first step. But the ban will be ineffective unless Congress gives the agency the means with which to enforce it.