In Nye County, recreational shooters are facing the possibility that much of their traditional shooting areas soon will be off-limits, at least when it comes to target shooting. In early March, the Bureau of Land Management announced plans to close about 5,000 acres of public land south of Pahrump to target shooting.
The proposed closure was posted in the Federal Register on March 2. Because I don't usually read the register, I missed that announcement and the BLM's call for public input. By the time I had been alerted to the proposal, I had missed the April 1 deadline to comment. Luckily for those who are interested, that deadline has since been extended to May 1.
The impetus behind the closure is Pahrump's rapid population growth. Safety concerns created by new residential developments also were cited.
There have been incidents of damage to private property and indiscriminate shooting toward residential areas by public lands users.
"This has been in the works for a while," said Kierston Cannon, a BLM public affairs specialist who estimated the agency has been working with Nye County law enforcement for about six years to improve safety in the area.
Cannon said sheriff's representatives thought the boundaries of the original 5,000-acre proposal were too hard to distinguish and recommended that the boundaries follow section lines. By making the switch to section lines, the proposed closure area was doubled in size to nearly 12,000 acres and extends from the southern edge of the rural community to the California state line.
Captain William Becht of the Nye County Sheriff's office said his agency has been working on the closure for about two years.
"There has been a lot of complaints the past couple of years but nothing that would indicate shooters have been unsafe," he said.
Though the closure affects only target shooters -- and is not supposed to have an immediate impact on legal hunting -- Becht is concerned that the closure doesn't go far enough.
"It doesn't affect hunters, only target shooters," he said. "But if it's unsafe to shoot at a stationary target on the ground, how can it be safe to shoot at a moving animal?"
The BLM still is accepting public comment. A map of the proposed closure can be found at www.nv.blm.gov/vegas.
• VIRGINIA TECH THOUGHTS -- We've had a few days to ponder the heinous events at Virginia Tech, and though they took place thousands of miles away, each of us somehow has been touched.
For those of us who participate in shooting and hunting sports, gunman Cho Seung-Hui's murderous actions have thrown open the door on the gun-control debate and might have long-term repercussions. Though anti-gun politicians have shown surprising restraint in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, you can be assured that their handlers are weighing all options and trying to decide whether Cho has paved their way to your gun safe with political capital. Get ready for a bumpy ride.
Doug Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer and a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column is published Thursday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.