My Turn: Arizona can't handle federal lands

Arizona Republic

My Turn: Allowing the state to assume control ignores basic realities about what happens on vast swaths of Arizona land.

Robert Robb’s Sept. 4 column ("Transferring federal lands not a kook idea") asks Arizona’s citizens to consider the idea, put forth by the American Legislative Exchange Council and others, to transfer federal public land to the state for better management.

 

ALEC and Robb believe that Arizona and other western states are in a better position to manage these lands to maximize their economic potential. They make this contention in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

 

Arizona cannot properly manage its state land. Much of our state trust land is in poor ecological condition, and our state parks are nearly bankrupt.

 

Arizona has a significant amount of forests managed by federal agencies. They can be better managed, but we need to remember that for many decades natural wildfires were suppressed in order to protect timber and private property. That led to overgrown forests.

 

Robb would have us believe that “environmentalists” destroyed the lumber industry in Arizona, but the fact is it became less profitable to continue logging in Arizona. All the easy trees had been harvested.

 

ALEC and Robb ignore the reality that public land is more than a place to mine, drill and log. There are other values to public land that Americans cherish. Public land provides ecological services such as fresh air and water, flood control, wildlife habitat and places to recreate as well as providing minerals, oil and natural gas.

 

I can only wonder why Robb would use Illinois and Missouri as examples of states doing well with little federal land. The ecological conditions are completely different; farmers can make a living off this land. This is not true for Arizona, except for a few areas located along one of our rare perennial streams or rivers.

 

As for environmentalists having veto power of federal land management decisions, I can only wish they had more influence on policy. If this were true, there might not be any grazing on arid public land, and open pit mines and coal mining on public land would be a footnote in history. Mexican wolves would be roaming their former range.

 

I suppose the vision that ALEC and Robb have of Arizona’s public land would be similar to Ralph H. Cameron’s, Arizona’s first Republican senator, who wanted to privatize the Grand Canyon so he could continue to charge for the use of the Bright Angel Trail and mine wherever he and his partners chose.

 

Fortunately, another American, President Theodore Roosevelt, recognized the other values offered by the Grand Canyon by establishing it through proclamations. Grand Canyon National Park was created in 1916 by congressional action and signed by President Woodrow Wilson.

 

Curiously, Robb ignores the leasing process that federal land management agencies use to manage for all Americans. Revenue generated by the Bureau of Land Management through leases, royalties and rentals pays for its operations with money left over. In 2013, the BLM contributed $107 billion to the U.S. economy.

 

Public land -- where we get most of our potable water, much of the oxygen we breathe, places to recreate and so much more -- is too precious to allow private interests to destroy for short-term profits. As an American, I am committed to our public lands for the long term.

Thom Hulen of Tempe is an advocate for natural and cultural resources.