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Feds bag idea of curbing target practice on public lands

The Obama administration on Wednesday backed off a draft policy to restrict target shooting on federal land near residential areas.

In a memo, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would direct his agency to "take no further action to develop or implement" the draft. U.S. News & World Report posted a copy of the memo on its website.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., last Friday sent Salazar a letter asking that the draft policy be canned, saying he worried it would be taken advantage of by anti-gun rights groups. "Any draft proposal regarding recreation on public lands must continue to guarantee hunting opportunities," he wrote.

In a statement issued along with a copy of the letter, Rehberg said the Obama administration "is uncomfortable with gun rights, and eager to restrict the Second Amendment at every opportunity."

"In a state like Montana, where the federal government is by far the largest land holder, preserving Second Amendment rights on public land isn’t just a question of good policy," he said. "It’s a question of protecting our way of life from big-city meddlers."

The rationale cited in the draft included public safety on areas maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.

"As the West has become more populated, recreational shooters now often find themselves in conflict with other public lands users, and the BLM is frequently called on to mediate these conflicts," the draft stated.

"Closing areas where risks are high may reduce shooting related conflicts, and may also reduce legal claims against the BLM for shooting-related injuries or damages," the draft concluded.

Rehberg and others opposed to the draft were particularly concerned with criteria they felt would allow land managers to unfairly limit target practices. The draft would have stated that "the specific shooting activity must not:"

  • "Cause a public disturbance or create risk to other persons on public lands.
  • "Deface, remove or destroy natural features, native plants, cultural resources, historic structures or government and/or private property.
  • "Facilitate and create a condition of littering, refuse accumulation and abandoned personal property.
  • "Violate existing use restriction, a closure and restriction order, or supplementary rules notice."

A committee that advises the federal government on hunting issues had earlier also voiced concern about the draft.

"The Council concludes that its implementation will have the practical effect of moving recreational shooting off public lands, thereby diminishing public access to public lands," the group stated earlier this month in comments to the BLM.

The group, known as the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, drafted recommendations such as building berms to enhance safety. Its members include hunting associations as well as The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation.