"The boundaries are indistinguishable by the public. It's great to see the BLM marching forward," said SITLA deputy director Kim Christy, who endorses the draft plan.
The Utah Shooting Sports Council blasted it, however, saying the BLM's proposal scapegoats shooters and uses public safety and rock-art damage as an excuse to justify closures. Council board member Bill Pedersen said "billions of rounds" have been fired in this area over the past 40 years with no injuries.
"We see it as a wolf in sheep's clothing," he said. "You are losing access to 3,400 acres that's public land. They are talking about road closures. Now you will affect the ATV riders and horseback riders, all because of the fear-mongering of the shooters."
But Christy says the situation on the Lake Mountains cannot be sustained. An estimated 50,000 people per year come to this area south of Saratoga Springs to hone their marksmanship. The impact has grown with rapid urban growth on the northwest shore of Utah Lake. Gunfire triggered a dozen wildfires in 2012, including one that threatened a new subdivision.
In response to shooting abuses, SITLA closed 1,500 acres to all access because it couldn't close its lands just to shooting. But last session, the Legislature passed SB72, authorizing the agency to do just that. It enabled SITLA to eventually reopen its 1,500 acres to the public, including hunters, while keeping out target shooters.
"Instead of us liberally casting the net, we can surgically address it on a target-shooting basis," Christy said. "It is intended to be used in limited instances."
The BLM has already given 160 acres to Utah County to develop a shooting range at the south end of the planning area on Soldier Pass Road. The purpose of that transfer is to develop a place where the public can shoot in a managed environment and contain the impacts within firing lanes that are surrounded by earthen berms.
The lands targeted for closure are 893 acres now under temporary closure along State Route 68 and all the public land in the southern end of the planning area, a checkerboard of the future shooting range and the trashed lands SITLA had closed.
The release of the draft environmental assessment opens a public comment period through May 16. The BLM is set to host a meeting May 11 at the Talons Cove Golf Club in Saratoga Springs from 6 to 8 p.m.
Brian Maffly covers public lands for The Salt Lake Tribune. Maffly can be reached at email@example.com or 801-257-8713.