12.12.11

Volunteers at Ironwood Forest face danger from recreational shooting

The following is a report from a member of our Friends Group Network, Lasha Brown, Executive Director, Friends of Ironwood Forest.

Volunteer removing buffelgrass

Removing buffelgrass from the Ironwood Forest National Monument

On Saturday, December 10th, a small, but dedicated group of volunteers joined together to pull buffelgrass at El Cerrito Represso in the southern portion of Ironwood Forest National Monument. The project, sponsored by the Friends of Ironwood Forest and the Bureau of Land Management, continues the efforts to remove buffelgrass from the area.

Despite a cold start, the morning dawned clear and beautiful, as volunteers enjoyed the silence and several species of birds in the area where we were working. Hiking up the steep, rocky east side of the hill, we began the strenuous work of pulling out the invasive, non-native buffelgrass. As we enjoyed each other’s company, I happened to notice several groups of vehicles pull into the parking area at the base of the hill. Our BLM representative had stayed behind in this area in case recreational shooters attempted to use the area, in spite of the posted closing for the volunteer project. BLM law enforcement representatives were in the area to keep an eye out for illegal activity associated with illegal drug and human smuggling, often occurring on the Monument.

At about 11 am, we began to hear shots being fired. The sound appeared to be coming from the west side of the hill where we were working. However, over the last three hours of work, we had made our way from the east side to the south side of the hill. As I attempted to contact our BLM representative ¼ mile away at the parking area, I became increasingly concerned for the safety of our volunteers and myself. The shots were clearly coming from semi-automatic weapons. I was certain they were shooting at the very hill we were working on. After a few minutes, we headed down the hill to wrap up our work and enjoy some snack.

I decided to descend the rocky slope ahead of the volunteers in order to reach our BLM representative as quickly as possible. I really wanted to know what was going on and why, with BLM law enforcement in the area, shooters were being allowed to actively discharge their firearms in the general area where we were working. As I reached the parking area, I explained the situation to the law enforcement agent who has recently arrived. It appears that despite the BLM representative clearly explaining to the shooters that they must go away from the hill and to not shoot in its direction because of volunteers working on it, that they did just the opposite.

I am still very upset at this series of events. This is not the first time that volunteers have been put at risk while working on the Monument. Despite the attempts of BLM personnel and law enforcement it seems the only way to ensure the safety of the people who volunteer their time is to simply not allow it in the first place. Our repeated attempts to ensure volunteer safety under all circumstances must take precedence over everything else that we do. I realize now that I was far too confident in BLM’s ability to closely monitor the shooting activities in the area where we were working. And I can assure you I will not make that mistake again.

There is only one solution to this problem, recreational shooting must be prohibited within the Monument. Extensive documentation has been compiled by the BLM itself, demonstrating the damage being done to the very resources the Monument is intended to protect. Ironwood Forest was designated a National Monument in 2000, but still does not have a completed management plan. That means that for the last 11 years, this destructive activity has been allowed to continue, despite the known damage that it is causing, and despite the risk volunteers and Monument visitors face from stray bullets.

The Friends of Ironwood Forest and several of our partner organizations filed a petition with the BLM on Friday, December 9, 2011. This petition is a formal request of the agency to take immediate action to close the Monument to recreational shooting. The safety of visitors and volunteers must be ensured. And, the Bureau must take action to prevent the extensively documented damage occurring to the sensitive plants, animals, and cultural sites, that are to be protected as part of the nationally significant resources that find refuge at Ironwood Forest National Monument.