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A proposal to ban shooting on most or all of the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area in extreme southwestern Utah to protect the threatened Mojave desert tortoise has caught the attention of the National Rifle Association.

The draft Resource Management Plan offers four alternatives to address recreational target-shooting in the 63,500-acre conservation area, where the Great Basin, Mohave Desert and Colorado Plateau all come together.

The Bureau of Land Management's preferred alternative, Alternative B, would prohibit recreational target shooting on 50,908 acres that have been designated as critical habitat for the Mojave desert tortoise. Planners say this alternative would protect tortoises from being deliberately or accidentally shot and would lessen impacts on tortoise habitat from littering and potential fires.

Alternative C would prohibit recreational target shooting in the entire area, while alternatives A and D would continue to authorize recreational target shooting.

None of the proposed target-shooting bans would affect licensed hunting during prescribed seasons set by the state of Utah.

The St. George Field Office of the BLM has extended the public comment period on how it will manage the area through Nov. 16.

"This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. How much more public land does the government need and what are they going to do with it?" asked Bob Traver, a salesman at Dixie Gun & Fish in St. George. Customers are concerned about the proposal, he said, and are "wondering where they are going to go and if we are going to have any public lands to shoot on when they get through with it."

The NRA is urging its members to write to the BLM to favor proposals to keep the area open to target shooting.

"For years, the NRA and other sportsmen's groups have asked that recreational shooting be managed like camping and hiking so that recreational use conflict is reduced," said NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen. "We want shooting to be conducted in safe and accessible environments where there are natural or man-made backstops. All too often, federal land management plans without considering the impact on shooters who use those areas."

Washington County's formal shooting range is called the Redcliffs Range and is located near Hurricane at the Purgatory Complex.

While stressing that his agency is committed to hearing from the public on not just the shooting issue but all issues covered by the draft Resource Management Plan, BLM St. George Field Office Manager Brian Tritle stressed that no final decisions have been made and that the agency will consider all public comments submitted on the draft before issuing a final plan.

"As part of our planning process, the BLM has an obligation to consider the impact that recreational target shooting may have on the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, and the BLM is analyzing a range of alternatives," Tritle said.

The draft plan can be read at Comments may be submitted by email to or faxed to 435-688-3252.