October 4, 2019
Dear Mr. Pendley and Chief Christensen:
The undersigned organizations represent millions of hunters, sportsmen and women, and wildlife conservationists who have a long-standing and vested interest in access and opportunities for sportsmen and women on federal public lands. We are signatories to the Federal Lands Hunting, Fishing and Shooting Sports Roundtable Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The purpose of the MOU is to build a partnership with the signatories “for planning and implementing mutually beneficial projects and activities related to hunting, fishing, and shooting sports conducted on federal lands.”
We are writing to you as leaders in the implementation of S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act (P.L. 116-9). We have identified an issue that could have lasting implications for recreational shooting on BLM and USFS administered lands as a result of the dual enactment earlier this year of S. 47 and S. 94, the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (P.L. 116-17).
Section 4104 of S. 47 provides the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture with the authority to lease or permit the use of federal land for a shooting range with certain exceptions. The exceptions are the leasing or permitting of a shooting range within “1) a component of the National Landscape Conservation System; 2) a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System; 3) any area that is – (A) designated as a wilderness study area; (B) administratively classified as – (i) wilderness-eligible; or (ii) wilderness suitable; or (C) a primitive or semi primitive area; (4) a national monument, national volcanic monument, or national scenic area; or (5) a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (including areas designated for study for potential addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System).” The term “shooting range” is not defined and does not exist elsewhere in statute or regulation.
In contrast, S. 94 defines the term “public target range” as a specific location that “1) is identified by a governmental agency for recreational shooting; 2) is open to the public; 3) may be supervised; and 4) may accommodate archery or rifle, pistol, or shotgun shooting.” This definition was specifically designed to assist states in the development of ranges pursuant to the Wildlife Restoration Act (16 U.S.C. 669g and 669h). We are concerned that in the absence of a definition of “shooting range” in S. 47, the target range definition in S. 94 will be adopted. Because the target range definition was not designed to be applied to the conduct of recreational shooting on BLM and USFS lands, we wholeheartedly request that a regulatory definition of “shooting range” be written specific to the implementation of S. 47.
it is imperative that certain factors are considered when implementing S. 47 to ensure that the needs of BLM and USFS managers and the public are considered with respect to managing recreational shooting. For example, there are a total of 28 shooting ranges located on BLM lands throughout the country, with six of these being managed by the agency itself and twenty-one managed under a Recreation and Public Purposes Act (R&PPA) lease. There are no laws or regulations precluding either agency from building infrastructure, such as berms, to support shooting activity separate and apart from the construction of a shooting range.
The ability to build infrastructure that is not as all-inclusive as a traditional shooting range is an important tool for land and visitor use management and should be used to provide managed shooting opportunities for the public. In some cases, it may be useful and appropriate to use these management tools in areas such as national monuments or components of the National Landscape Conservation System. For this reason, we believe it is critical that the target range definition of S. 94 not be used to define the term “shooting range” in S. 47. Congress had different purposes in enacting these two laws and the regulatory definition for S. 47 should be consistent with and reflect the differences between the underlying statutes.
There are numerous recreational shooting areas on BLM and USFS lands that do not fit the traditional definition or concept of a shooting range. The Federal Lands Hunting and Shooting Sports Roundtable, created by the MOU, identified four distinct types of recreational shooting on BLM and USFS lands that may help guide the development of a definition for “shooting range.” They are listed in descending order from structured to dispersed recreational shooting venues.
1. DESIGNATED SHOOTING RANGES:
Developed and managed areas designed and operated specifically for recreational shooting. These areas include significantly modified landscapes and infrastructure such as shade structures, benches, a designated firing line, trash containers and restrooms specifically placed to facilitate recreational shooting, firearms training, archery or other associated activities.
2. DESIGNATED SHOOTING AREAS:
Areas where the land management agency has made some improvements to the area and post and/or advertise them as a site for recreational shooting. They are unsupervised and may have limited infrastructure such as manmade berms, backstops and target holders and trash containers to support target shooting and visitor use.
3. UNDESIGNATED SHOOTING AREAS:
Areas which frequently attract recreational shooters due to the presence of manmade or natural landscape features that provide shooting opportunities and are easily accessed due to their proximity to roadways and other designated routes that facilitate visitor use.
4. Dispersed recreational shooting:
Shooting that takes place at undefined locations on public lands with no infrastructure provided to accommodate recreational shooting that occurs consistent with existing regulations found at 43 CFR Sec. 8365.
We are taking the liberty of offering a proposed definition of “shooting range” for the BLM’s and USFS’s consideration. It is as follows:
- A shooting range is a managed location on federal lands set aside for the purposeful discharge of legal firearms including one or more of the following: rifles, pistols, shotguns. A shooting range may also include archery.
- A shooting range must meet the following criteria:
- It must be developed, supervised and operated for public recreational shooting.
- It must be developed, supervised and operated for training and competition.
- It must be accessible to the public and properly maintained.
- Federal agencies providing a shooting range may contract or subcontract with persons or corporations to supervise and operate such areas with the stipulation that they must provide public shooting, competition and training opportunities.
In addition, we recommend that this or a similar definition be applied to projects that were initiated on or after March 12, 2019, the effective date of S. 47. Taking this step will preclude the closure or decommissioning of any existing shooting range or modified landscape that was developed to manage recreational shooting prior to that date should they exist in one of the exceptions outlined in Section 4104 of S. 47.
We believe the proposed definition is consistent with the intent of Congress when passing the S. 47 while, at the same time, providing BLM and the USFS with the tools needed to effectively manage in a manner that meets the public’s needs, including those of America’s sportsmen and women. We look forward to working with you as you move forward with implementing S. 47.
Archery Trade Association
Boone and Crockett Club
Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports
Delta Waterfowl Foundation
Houston Safari Club
Masters of Foxhounds Association
Mule Deer Foundation
National Association of Forest Service Retirees
National Rifle Association
National Shooting Sports Foundation
National Wild Turkey Federation
National Wildlife Federation
Public Lands Foundation
Quality Deer Management Association
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Safari Club International
Wild Sheep Foundation
Wildlife Management Institute
Cc: Jim Cason, DOI Associate Deputy Secretary
James Hubbard, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment
Casey Hammond, DOI Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Sue Spear, Director, USFS Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers