The Obama administration said Wednesday it will not impose new restrictions on recreational shooting on public lands, a Thanksgiving gift for thousands of gun owners and hunters concerned about a draft plan to limit target shooting near residential areas.
The policy, proposed this summer, could have closed millions of acres of federal land to gun use, a prospect that caused alarm among gun owners, particularly in the West, where target shooting on public land is a longtime tradition. Hunting season for deer and other game begins around Thanksgiving in many states.
Officials said they were trying to ensure public safety in rapidly growing areas of the West, where some residents have clashed with gun owners who use public lands for target practice.
In a memo obtained by The Associated Press, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his department supports opportunities for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on federal land.
"By facilitating access, multiple use and safe activities on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management helps ensure that the vast majority of the 245 million acres it oversees are open and remain open to recreational shooting," he wrote.
The memo directs BLM Director Bob Abbey to "take no further action to develop or implement" the draft policy on recreational shooting.
Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., who had sharply criticized the earlier proposal, said Wednesday he was glad the Obama administration had reversed course.
"But it would be a lot better for everyone if they stopped doing things to restrict gun rights that require them to back off in the first place," said Rehberg, a frequent Obama critic who is challenging incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., next year.
"One thing is sure: You can't blink with these guys or they'll slip something through," Rehberg added in an email.
The BLM said in announcing the draft policy on recreational shooting that many areas previously used for target practice are now too close to houses or other development. By 2020, such "hot spots" were projected in all 48 continental states, the BLM said.
The BLM draft plan would have provided gun owners with a map of nearby areas suitable for target practice.
The Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, an advisory committee of conservationists and outdoors groups, expressed concern over the draft plan. Instead of restricting recreational shooting, the government should provide improvements for safe shooting such as berms, benches and target holders, the group said.