The Bureau of Land Management last week issued recommendations to expand recreational shooting opportunities on the millions of acres of public lands under the agency. 

The BLM, part of the Interior Department, controls more than 245 million acres of federal land. Around 99 percent is currently open to recreational shooting. The guidance issued Dec. 31, 2020, seeks to preserve the use of that land for future generations of sportsmen. 

The agency's general policy is to enhance shooting opportunities in its land-use planning decisions. To ensure how recreational shooting is managed, BLM offices were issued additional guidance to incorporate specific standards into their land-use planning decisions to preserve the practice.

“Recreational shooting is a longstanding tradition for millions of Americans, and the Department is proud to support this popular pastime as a key component of the BLM’s multiple-use mission,” said Casey Hammond, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “Working with local communities, our state agency partners, and other key stakeholders, we will continue to ensure that public lands remain open to recreational shooting, allowing Americans to pass down our nation’s rich outdoor heritage to future generations.”

Recreational shooting on public lands is tied to funding for wildlife conservation through the American firearm industry’s growing tax contributions to the Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund.

The 80-year-old Pittman-Robertson Act levies an 11 percent excise tax on all guns and ammo commercially sold or imported into the country to perform conservation-related tasks such as restoring habitat, funding hunter safety programs, and establishing public ranges. Paid for by firearms industry manufacturers, conservation officials announced over $670 million in Pittman-Robertson funds would be available to states in 2019 alone. This essentially makes every person that buys firearms or ammunition a conservationist.

Going past federal land, a law signed by President Trump in 2019 makes it easier for states to use these already existing federal funds to create public gun ranges.

The news of the latest reinforcement of recreational shooting from BLM was welcomed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry’s trade association, especially at a time when more than 8 million new first-time shooters were added to the rolls last year.

“This guidance from the Bureau of Land Management is enthusiastically welcomed by America’s sportsmen and women," said Larry Keane, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for NSSF. "It will help to ensure and increase recreational shooting access and opportunities on public lands and preserve the important gains for sportsmen and women achieved during the Trump Administration through the leadership of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt."

Millions of Americans participate in sport shooting, with much of it done on public land. A recent federal survey estimated there were over 32 million active target shooters in the country, including 3.8 million youth under age 16. Nearly another 12 million are hunters.

Sportsmen had deep pockets when it came to outdoor activities. Out of the nearly $7 billion spent on hunting equipment, almost half, $2.9 billion, went to purchase firearms and another $1.4 billion on ammunition. On average, the typical hunter spent $2,237 on their sport in 2016. The largest portion went to trip-related expenses such as food, lodging and transport.

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