State Game and Fish has bagged a site for a northern Arizona shooting range.
A week ago, commissioners approved unanimously the purchase of the privately held Foster Ranch, a 160-acre parcel located a mile southeast of the Walnut Canyon National Monument and about five miles south of Winona. The ranch was appraised this past December for $1.1 million.
Governor Jan Brewer will have to approve the purchase first, and then Game and Fish can proceed with the land purchase, which will operate much like a private party purchase, with the Arizona Game and Fish Commission being the owner of the ranch, said Doug Burt, spokesman for Game and Fish.
If the purchase clears, it means the 16-year quest to find a location and to open a Game and Fish-run shooting range in northern Arizona will be closer to an end. Previously, site after site has been thwarted by either concerns over noise and traffic raised by potential neighbors or the time, cost and complexity of completing land swaps with other agencies that hold land.
This is the site Game and Fish has settled on, Burt confirmed.
ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES UP NEXT
At this stage no detailed site plans have been made, but once the purchase is complete, Game and Fish will begin its micro-level planning.
The scope of environmental impact studies that will be required depends on the development plans for the site.
"Although the full scope of environmental compliance won't be determined for some time, the Department will conduct a thorough internal Environmental Assessment Checklist prior to any development on this site," said Josh Avey, habitat branch chief. "The development of this, and other, shooting ranges will serve our public by indirectly supporting our conservation mission."
One impact consideration that's bound to come up is the ranch's proximity to Walnut Canyon National Monument. A mile to the northwest of the ranch's buildings lies the southeastern boundary of Walnut Canyon; the monument's visitor center is a little more than 3 miles away, as the crow flies.
Charles Strickfaden, a chief ranger for the Flagstaff Area National Monuments, has said his agency would look at soundscape and wildlife resources that might be impacted by the presence of a local shooting range.
NOISE AND OWLS
One of those wildlife resources is the Mexican spotted owl, which makes its home on Anderson Mesa and is listed as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
"We would look at soundscape or wildlife resources that might be impacted and we would make a recommendation if there would be any impacts," Strickfaden said May 13, prior to the commission's vote to pursue the ranch.
During the May 15 commission meeting, the vast majority of comments from the pubic, sportsmen's clubs and local agencies were in favor of the location for a shooting range, Burt said.
One participant questioned whether taxpayer dollars, given the state's current budget crisis, were being used to purchase and develop the shooting range.
But Game and Fish officials have noted in the past that they have $2 million left over from a previous appropriation and fees for a northern Arizona shooting range. The acquisition and construction of the range will be entirely funded by hunting and fishing license fees, since the state's wildlife agency operates on a user-pay, user-benefit model.
"Our primary sources of revenue are from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, big game tags, some range fees, and the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration fund, and a federal appropriations of an excise tax on an array outdoor equipment. This range will be funded by hunters and anglers, but it will be a benefit to the state, region and economy," Burt said.
UP TO 30 SHOOTERS
Initially, the range might offer the following amenities:
-- General public range for pistol, rifle and shotgun, with shooting stations for up to 30 shooters at a time.
-- Law enforcement range
-- Archery shooting capabilities
-- As dictated by demand: Covered awnings, rest area, additional phased-in development.
-- A quality graded dirt road for access. The road will be improved as needed.
Burt said this range could be similarly compared to the Usery Mountain Range that is run by the Rio Salado Sportsmen's Club. Usery Mountain, located in northeast Mesa, allows the same types of firearms, covers 140 acres and accommodates 40 shooting positions at a time.
Laura Clymer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 913-8601.