Although vast and mostly uninhabited by humans, the 107,000 acre Caja del Rio faces numerous threats including illegal dumping, improper use, and archaeological vandalism. But one of the larger, more pressing issues is reckless and unregulated shooting.
On October 24, 2022, the coalition dedicated to the protection and responsible stewardship of the Caja submitted a formal letter to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Taos Field Office in response to released scoping documents outlining a proposed set of shooting ranges within the Caja. In the letter, coalition members provided comments and data regarding the BLM’s current management plan while suggesting a more appropriate, less intrusive shooting range site for the future.
But let’s get one thing straight. As a coalition, we’re not anti-shooting in the Caja. There are many people, including some within the coalition, who enjoy utilizing public shooting ranges. And here in New Mexico, there’s no doubt we have the space for it. But preservation and protection of our communities, historic sites, wildlife, and natural habitats take precedence and must be considered in future decision making.
That being said, we’ve highlighted a few concerns from the BLM’s project proposal along with our suggestions:
- Tribal consultation, co-management and cross-jurisdictional collaboration must be a top priority
Following guidance issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior in September 2022 to strengthen Tribal co-stewardship of public lands and waters, BLM should prioritize communication with Pueblos and Tribes. From the earliest stages of planning and decision making, government-to-government consultation should be strictly adhered to in order for all parties to provide meaningful and considerable input. The BLM should also ensure that development of any land for a shooting range will comply with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA Sec. 106). Furthermore, BLM should strongly consider the opportunity of collaboration and co-management of the Caja del Rio with Pueblo and Tribal leadership.
- The proposed Camel Tracks location is not a viable location for a shooting range.
The proposed location would extend too far into the Caja and would negatively impact ecological and cultural resources. Placing a shooting range here would require costly road construction and maintenance, would be inconvenient for local users, and would result in negative consequences to the delicate yet vital wildlife habitat.
- The San Pedro Mountains area is not a suitable location for a shooting range.
Currently, the unconfined target shooting that occurs in this location occurs too close to residential areas with no suitable alternatives within the vicinity. Additionally, the San Pedro area is far from populated areas within Santa Fe County, making it inconvenient to access. People who often use this area travel north from Albuquerque or Bernalillo County, however, Albuquerque is already home to a shooting range park that is owned and publicly operated by the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division.
- BLM should incorporate best practices into the development, maintenance, and management of a shooting range
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) the BLM has an obligation to “prevent unnecessary or undue degradation” which means they should consider all reasonable alternatives as well as impacts of the proposed shooting range sites. Utilizing best practices would also take into account safety considerations, facility operations, sound mitigation, and environmental protection including lead contamination and other pollution.
So what’s a good alternative site for a shooting range? Currently, there’s an ad-hoc shooting range off County Rd. 56C that is heavily utilized. Although this location is not regularly maintained or regulated, here’s why this would be the most viable alternative:
The site is accessible and conveniently located to where motor vehicles can enter without significant disturbance to the environment or local community. Developing a road into the heart of the Caja will likely lead to an expansion of trash dumping even if it is not related to target shooting activities.
Utilizing this site would minimize the negative impacts on historical and cultural sites such as the petroglyphs in La Cieneguilla. This site has already received extensive, heavy usage, eliminating the impact of developing a new shooting range.
Developing a state-of-the-art range at this location would cost less than developing a new location further into the interior of the Caja.
Wildlife has already learned to avoid the existing ad-hoc shooting range off County Rd. 56C due to loud noises from motor vehicles, noise pollution, and heavy use to the site.
Initial outreach to neighboring communities yielded a positive reaction to this option, indicating that community members would be more likely to accept the construction of a developed shooting range at the existing shooting site, as compared to the locations proposed in the initial scoping notice.
The coalition looks forward to working with the BLM to follow up on these concerns and find a viable, sustainable path forward.