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TUCSON, Ariz. -- The federal government is banning recreational target shooting at Ironwood Forest National Monument in southern Arizona because of damage to cacti, trees and rocks with prehistoric carvings.

The Bureau of Land Management said studies found that shooters damaged resources at more than 30 sites and that designating a few areas for shooting would just concentrate damage there.

The BLM's decision is supported by conservationists and opposed by advocates for gun owners, the Arizona Daily Star reported Tuesday.

Todd Rathner, a national board member of the National Rifle Association, said it's absurd that there's no place on a 129,000-acre monument for recreational shooting.

``Obviously they bent to the will of extremists who have been putting pressure on them,'' Rathner said.

Rathner said the NRA would consider steps to overturn the ban, including a lawsuit and possible congressional action.

For many monument fans and nature lovers, the shooting ban ``will move us light-years ahead of where we were,'' said Lahsha Brown, executive director of Friends of Ironwood Forest National Monument.

Gunfire in the monument has scared away people who thought it might be related to smuggling, she said.

The target-shooting ban is part of the BLM's first management plan for the monument, which was created in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton.

Brian Bellew, BLM's Tucson field office manager, said people caught target shooting at the monument located in desert northwest of Tucson would initially just be told of the ban.

Bellew said citation of violators will start after BLM publishes supplemental rules and an enforcement schedule for the monument in the Federal Register.

The BLM proposed a similar ban in the larger Sonoran Desert National Monument north of Ironwood Forest, but the agency withdrew the proposal last May because of complaints by the NRA and other groups.

Associated Press,

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