The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has released the draft environmental assessment for a recreational shooting sports project, which proposes the development of five designated sites throughout Maricopa and Pinal counties.
Three of the sites are near Peoria. Saddleback Mountain will be a minimally developed site approximately 0.8 miles south of State Route 74; Church Camp Road will be a developed site about 0.4 miles north of SR 74; and Baldy Mountain will be a minimally developed site nearly 2.4 miles north of SR 74 and 2.5 miles west of Lake Pleasant.
The draft environmental assessment analyzes the effects the proposals will have on cultural and biological resources, recreation, livestock grazing, public safety and soils, and addresses waste, noise, visual resource management and Native American religious concerns.
It will be open for public review and input through Wednesday, September 4.
Elsewhere, in the Southwest Valley, there will be a site northeast of West Narramore Road, approximately 0.6 miles west of South 339th Avenue and 1.2 miles east of South 355th Avenue.
Even farther south, Box Canyon is a proposed semideveloped site approximately 0.1 mile west of North Hidden Valley Road and south of State Route 238.
Baldy Mountain, the closest to Lake Pleasant, is the newest proposal since BLM conducted a 30-day scoping period this summer.
According to the BLM, the five sites were chosen due to their ease of access and minimal conflict with surrounding activities, land uses and resources.
BLM Phoenix District Manager Leon Thomas said the Baldy Mountain site was added to ensure that, should any others end up conflicting with their surroundings, enough sites will be constructed.
“As we were going through the analysis of the sites, we didn’t know just how many sites would fall off as far as resource conflicts,” Thomas explained. “And so just to kind of ensure that we had the right number of sites and make it all the way through the process, we added another site, which didn’t have the potential of having different resource conflicts like the other sites did.”
The draft environmental assessment reports that each site will have a “facility area” and a “hazardous exclusion area,” the latter of which will be off limits. Because the five facilities will range from minimally to fully developed, amenities and structures will vary. And because the level of development will differ, so will the presence of management. Some facilities could simply implement safety measures while others could have range masters.
Facility areas, at a minimum, however, must have a designated shooting platform, target zone and parking area, the assessment specifies.
And specific amenities could include target structures, short- and long-range target zones, shooting bays, shotgun sporting clay shooting, concrete shooting platforms, information and education signs, shade structures and restroom facilities. Visitor contact stations could be identified further down the line. (See sidebar for proposed Narramore Road amenities.)
According to Thomas, the formal design process is only 35% complete, so there’s still room for adjustment.
“We have a pretty good sense as to what we want these sites to look like, but we’re still in a sweet spot to be able to get more input,” he explained.
After the draft environmental assessment input period closes September 4, Thomas said officials will analyze comments and make adjustments as necessary, before a final environmental assessment is signed.
Approximately 97% of BLM-managed lands in Arizona are open to recreational shooting. Public lands are also used for activities such as off-highway vehicles, hiking and equestrian use. Those activities will not be affected.
Feedback thus far has been “extremely positive,” Thomas said.
“Most of our feedback is, ‘This has been a long time coming. We’re really glad that you all are finally finding a way to manage for this activity while not completely shutting it down. We are happy that you’re being responsible with the resources,’ and they’re very happy that we’ve included them in the conversation,” Thomas explained.
“It has been very, very positive feedback, not only from the community but also from our county supervisors and congressional staffers as well.”
BLM has already begun preparing various plans to facilitate the development process as well as eventual operation. Necessary plans include, but aren’t limited to, operation plans, safety plans, environmental stewardship plans, recreational area management plans and stormwater pollution prevention plans. Business plans could also be needed for any sites that implement fees, which aren’t off the table.
“Outside of this environmental assessment, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done — we actually have already started — to really get to the way that these sites are going to operate efficiently and safely,” Thomas said.
But the hope, he added, is to get the ball rolling on construction in January. And while the idea is to eventually build all five sites, recreational target shooters may only see a few to start. Which sites those could be, however, has yet to be determined. Cost and funding also have yet to be determined.
And, according to the draft environmental assessment, fully developed sites could start with minimal amenities and eventually be expanded.
“I’m confident that at this stage we will eventually get to five over the next year,” Thomas said. “I’m thinking once we get to about the January timeframe, which was our goal to break ground, we may only be at two to three to start off with, but we know that we’re analyzing all five and we’ll eventually get to build out on at least five.”
For more information or to submit comments, visit https://go.usa.gov/xmfVv. Comments may also be mailed to BLM Phoenix District Office at 21605 N. Seventh Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027, to the attention of Tyler Lindsey, or faxed to 623-580-5580. Include “Rec Shooting Sports Project” in the subject line.