Flagstaff, AZ – Intro) For years the Arizona Game and Fish Department has struggled to find a suitable site for a shooting range in northern Arizona. Now, after nearly two decades, the agency is on the cusp of opening one at a private ranch it purchased east of Flagstaff. But the site is only a few miles away from Walnut Canyon National Monument visitor center. And as Arizona Public Radio's Theresa Bierer reports, that's led to a noisy debate.
TB) The view from Foster Ranch is breathtaking. The snowcapped San Francisco Peaks rise above tree covered hills.Mike Golightlly spent 15 years as a Game and Fish commissioner.
Golightly) it has 160 acres that we can develop, i think it has the hillsides that i think are important for shooting. i think with berming and uh sound abatement we can make this range work.
TB) Golightly has had a hard time finding a location that works. Two other potential sites on forest service land near Flagstaff were both shot down in part because of public concern over noise. The closest ranges are at least two hours away. The Game and Fish Department's Jay Cooke says law enforcement and gun enthusiasts in northern Arizona need a formal shooting range.
Jay Cooke) (they're) forced to go into the forest and it does have impacts on the forest. there is trash being left behind so knowing you have a place to go where there is a feeling that would be reduced because there is no other option right now.
TB) Many people agree that a regional shooting range is needed. But many of those same people don't want one near Walnut Canyon.
(Portion of Sound Test)
(TB) These gunshots were fired at Foster Ranch during a sound test. National Monument superintendent Diane Chung says they were recorded about two miles from the visitor center.
Diane Chung) And it was quite disturbing because you're used to being out there and it's quiet and you hear the wind blow and the birds chirp and to hear the gunshots and quite a few of them, i think it will seriously impact people's experiences at Walnut Canyon.
TB) It's a quiet, crisp winter day at Walnut Canyon. The national monument protects hundreds of ancient cliff dwellings. The area is held sacred by 13 native American tribes, several of whom oppose the Foster Ranch Shooting Range. Walnut Canyon's Chief Ranger Charles Strickfaden says the range is contrary to the goals of the National Park Service.
Charles Strickfaden) our mission is to make sure that we protect not only wildlife and habitat diversity but also soundscapes, not only impacting the serenity but also sensitive wildlife species like the Mexican spotted owl and the northern Goshawk.
TB) A study is underway to determine if the monument should be expanded to protect additional archaeological resources. It that happens, the new boundary would be a half mile from Foster Ranch.
Jim McCarthy) the real issue is a clashing of values.
TB) That's Jim McCarthy, who is an expert on sound issues at the Grand Canyon. He also serves on Flagstaff's Planning and Zoning commission, where he analyzes incompatible land uses.
McCarthy) You don't put hog farms next to houses. there is nothing wrong with hog farms there is nothing wrong with shooting ranges. But shooting ranges don't belong next to a national monument.
TB) This week, the Flagstaff City Council passed a resolution opposing the Foster Ranch shooting range. The Council has also been urging Game and Fish to mitigate sounds of gunfire.
That is the plan, says Jay Cooke.
Cooke) Our sound consultant indicated that he felt we could reduce the sound by half. just by using berms, canopies over the shooting areas, acoustical material.
TB) Cooke says the Game and Fish Department examined more than 50 sites in the greater Flagstaff area, and chose Foster Ranch because of its proximity to town, and because it could get built by 2013. It doesn't include critical wildlife habitat. And former commissioner Mike Golightly says it's outside the national monument's study area for expansion.
Golightly) The monument ends here this isn't the monument. Everything else beyond the monument belongs to someone else. And this is private property. And I think that department's interest is to make this work and keep working at the sound issue because that's the real focal point.
TB) Opponents question whether Game and Fish will really do everything it can to mitigate sound impacts. They have one more chance to voice their concerns at an open house tonight. Then it goes to Arizona's Game and Fish Commission, which will likely approve it within the next two weeks.
In Flagstaff, for Arizona Public Radio, I'm Theresa Bierer
Announcer Tag) Tonight's open house is at the Game and Fish office in Flagstaff at 35-hundred South Lake Mary Road from 5:30 to Eight. You can also see the shooting range master plan on line, at AZGFD dot GOV.