Due to pressure from Idaho Congressman Bill Sali, the Bureau of Land Management has scrapped its plans to increase the acreage affected by a shooting ban at the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Kuna. The plan to increase the banned acreage was intended not only to protect raptors in the area, but National Guard soldiers who train near the preserve.
From an AP story written by John Miller in the Idaho Press-Tribune:
The BLM, which oversees the 490,000-acre Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Boise, said it had been working with National Guard leaders for four years on the proposed shooting closure. It came after reports that sport shooters who come out to blast ground squirrels on the raptor preserve were also taking potshots at soldiers and tanks that have trained on part of the site since the 1950s. [...]
Prairie falcons and eagles soar over the preserve, home to one of the world's densest concentrations of nesting raptors. They live off the ground squirrels that pop their heads above the grass and sage.
With just two BLM agents to patrol 4 million acres of desert near Boise, however, gun enthusiasts regularly defy the existing 68,000-acre restrictions on rifles and pistols — shooting squirrels, protected birds and even cattle, preserve officials say.
In April the Boise Guardian published a photo displaying proof of the disregard for the existing shooting ban and the lack of enforcement at the Birds of Prey area. That didn't stop Sali from claiming that the government was attempting to unjustly limit access to public lands even though, according to the AP, the BLM had been planning this increase for years and had conducted 44 public meetings on the proposal.
"Anytime a federal government agency decides to curtail access to public lands, we have a concern that those decisions aren't made arbitrarily," Sali spokesman Wayne Hoffman said.
While a National Guard soldier was shot in the mid-1990s during training by a sport shooter, Hoffman said additional claims of conflicts such as stray fire directed at military tanks appeared to be overblown.
So there you have it. Congressman Sali was able to protect the amount of land available to irresponsible shooters for the free expression of irresponsible shooting. Perhaps it's time to issue body armor to all the raptors and nature observers using the area. National Guard — you're on your own.