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Arizona Battles the Federal Government for Control of the Grand Canyon

October 25, 2012
Arizona Battles the Federal Government for Control of the Grand Canyon - 5

The Grand Canyon has been called many things, but perhaps the most fitting title is "national treasure."

Legislators in Arizona, however, think that title is inaccurate. They claim that it's an "Arizona" treasure owned by the state of Arizona, and they want to make it official.

Arizona voters will decide a referendum on Nov. 6 that would amend the Arizona constitution and declare sovereign control over air, water, minerals, wildlife and public lands. If passed, Arizona could lay claim to all federal land in the state except military bases, Indian reservations, national parks and some wilderness areas—a total seizure of some 25 million acres. Once control has been claimed, Arizona legislators have vowed to expand logging and mining activities on those lands.

The vote is just the latest in an ongoing public lands battle in the West.

In May, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed legislation that authorized his state to seize control of Federal lands by 2014 unless the government handed control back over to the state. The following month, Herbert met with leaders from four other western states—Idaho, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming—to plan strategies for them to do the same.

Leaders of western states with substantial amounts of federally-owned public land believe that government control is a detriment to the state, and robbing them of revenue and jobs. They want to regain control and use those lands for "better" things—like mining and logging.

Proponents of nationally-owned public land disagree, arguing that public land isn’t a burden but an asset that creates revenue and jobs.

The Outdoor Industry Association, for example, holds its annual convention in Salt Lake City, bringing in about 46,000 visitors and generating some $42 million annually for Utah. It's revenue that's in jeopardy after Utah's recent legislation.

". . .the industry is often surprised and frustrated by Utah’s unfavorable positions on public lands policy. Beyond setting bad national precedent, these policies threaten the recreation infrastructure that is fundamental to the outdoor industry. Good economic policy cannot be divorced from bad public lands policy," said the OIA in a statement.

Another report recently released by the OIA states that the outdoor industry is worth some $646 billion in direct revenue, creates 6.1 million American jobs and generates nearly $40 billion each in Federal and state tax revenue.

On one hand, it's not hard to see why states with substantial amounts of federally-owned lands would want more control and believe that federal ownership is costing their state precious revenue and jobs. On the other, there is clear, fact-based evidence that displays the real value that public land and recreational-based tourism brings to state economies.

That said, you'll find little disagreement amongst conservation groups that federal land management policies and practices leave much to be desired. Federally-owned lands do not receive the same type of common-sense management approach that privately-owned lands do. Forest management, for example, has been virtually non-existent in many areas. And any forester worth his boots will tell you that a healthy forest is a managed forest—and management must include sensible timber thinning, either by chainsaw or fire. In many areas, that management simply is not happening under Federal control and many forests (and the wildlife that lives there) are suffering.

It is also clear that state legislatures have shown to be more willing to satisfy immediate needs rather than focus on long-term impacts. Some legislators in Utah, for example, have strenuously opposed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's 20-year moratorium on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, signed into effect in January arguing that the immediate influx of money from the creation of new uranium mines outweighs the long-term revenue stream from outdoors-based recreation.

This debate over public land ownership in the West has not been limited solely to state leaders. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's energy plan would turn control of oil and gas drilling decisions on federal lands over to the states—a move that has certainly sparked conversation amongst hunting and fishing organizations who believe such a move would put millions of acres of public land in jeopardy.

Nor is this issue exclusive to states in the West. Living in Michigan, a state with a significant amount of both state and federally-owned land, strikingly similar efforts are taking shape amongst legislators here.

I also understand this: The sentiment coming from states that federally-owned public land is "theirs" is false. Lands owned by the Federal government are owned by "us" as in "we, the people." Federally-owned public lands are funded and supported by the tax-paying citizens of these United States. If a state is to seize control of those lands, should we not expect to be fairly compensated for the taking of something that represents billions of dollars of tax-payer investment?

And how do the states propose to compensate you, as a tax-paying hunter or angler, for the loss of access and opportunity to hunt and fish should losses occur as a result of mining, logging or other practices?

Comments (5)

Top Rated
All Comments
from Watchdogman wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

Living in the great state of Idaho I can tell you the mismanagement of Federal forest land is abysmal! Hunting has taken a serious hit due to Federal Wolf introduction and the cost to the taxpayers to have Fed employees handling or Forest, BLM, etc is absolutely appalling! I think every damn employee with the BLM and Forest must have a new pickup assigned to them and most of them seem to sit in parking lot...So no one is really working, cost is overwhelming and do not try to convince me the Feds can do a better job...they cannot due anything better then Private sector and in most cases the States management much, much better...They face the locals everyday...The Feds, well they face EAST!!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from land_cruiser_73 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I believe the states could do a much better job than the feds in managing lands. Due to federal policies, we have no untouched lands as elkslayer suggests. Fire supression policies have prevented natural processes, creating a wilderness overloaded with fuel. Until these areas are logged back to their semi-natural state, we are sitting on a powder keg that will take centuries to recover from.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tony Bynum wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

@elkslayer show me the facts as per the commentary about states would do a better job. . . Im most cases you'll find they would not do a better job due to local politics and short term thinking . . . imagine what our states would look like if we had "given-back" the federal land 50 years ago or during the first sage brush rebellion. In some cases things would be more simple, but using the logic that states would do a better job really requires proof . . . BTW, which state stepped up to save the eagle? Which state stepped up to save the grizzly bear. I'm not saying there are not problems with esa, I'm making the point that states done always do what's best either . . . the compliment of state, federal and private works pretty well and if the states want to take over federal lands how will they pay for it? Unless your proposing redistribution at the state level now too?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from elkslayer wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I strongly believe that our public lands can be managed both for the outdoor industry as well as logging and mining. We have the technology to prevent polution and erosion and restore lands that have been used for mining and logging. In places where current technology is not sufficient to protect the land then we should leave it alone. I also believe that it is important to maintain a significant portion of land as completely undeveloped, not just for the sake of having untouched land but also to provide a baseline so we know what to return the land to.

I think states would be better equipped to provide proper management of the land and ensure that every measure is taken to ensure that industries don't abuse it. This would also mean that the revenue would go to the state from which it originated and will be best put to use.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tony Bynum wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Great reporting! Love the energy and the enthusiasm of the state of Arizona, it's just too bad they don't spend it on things that will cost less in the long run. Blowing millions on paying lawyers for a fight like this is a waste of tax payer dollars. It's amazing to me what people consider wise use of limited resources. I'm all for states rights, but we are a democratic republic and in the case of public (federal) lands, the states lack the fundamental rights to take over federal lands (try collecting taxes on those federal lands - LOL - states cant collect taxes on federal lands) . . . in the end, it is a huge wast of limited resources during a time of extreme shortfalls. And what if they do get control of those lands, heaven forbid, are they proposing to pay the federal inlieu taxes to all the counties that are currently paid by the federal government - I guess that's you and me - for managing public lands within their counties? If so, I'd ask the state where they would get the money to replace those payments. Would they redistribute other moneys? According to the Department of Interior, the payments to arizona, which are distributed to local governments, total, for the last three years: 2010 $27,823,593, 2011 $31,546,890 2012 $32,886,575 - just asking . . .

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from elkslayer wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I strongly believe that our public lands can be managed both for the outdoor industry as well as logging and mining. We have the technology to prevent polution and erosion and restore lands that have been used for mining and logging. In places where current technology is not sufficient to protect the land then we should leave it alone. I also believe that it is important to maintain a significant portion of land as completely undeveloped, not just for the sake of having untouched land but also to provide a baseline so we know what to return the land to.

I think states would be better equipped to provide proper management of the land and ensure that every measure is taken to ensure that industries don't abuse it. This would also mean that the revenue would go to the state from which it originated and will be best put to use.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from land_cruiser_73 wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

I believe the states could do a much better job than the feds in managing lands. Due to federal policies, we have no untouched lands as elkslayer suggests. Fire supression policies have prevented natural processes, creating a wilderness overloaded with fuel. Until these areas are logged back to their semi-natural state, we are sitting on a powder keg that will take centuries to recover from.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tony Bynum wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

@elkslayer show me the facts as per the commentary about states would do a better job. . . Im most cases you'll find they would not do a better job due to local politics and short term thinking . . . imagine what our states would look like if we had "given-back" the federal land 50 years ago or during the first sage brush rebellion. In some cases things would be more simple, but using the logic that states would do a better job really requires proof . . . BTW, which state stepped up to save the eagle? Which state stepped up to save the grizzly bear. I'm not saying there are not problems with esa, I'm making the point that states done always do what's best either . . . the compliment of state, federal and private works pretty well and if the states want to take over federal lands how will they pay for it? Unless your proposing redistribution at the state level now too?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Watchdogman wrote 1 year 38 weeks ago

Living in the great state of Idaho I can tell you the mismanagement of Federal forest land is abysmal! Hunting has taken a serious hit due to Federal Wolf introduction and the cost to the taxpayers to have Fed employees handling or Forest, BLM, etc is absolutely appalling! I think every damn employee with the BLM and Forest must have a new pickup assigned to them and most of them seem to sit in parking lot...So no one is really working, cost is overwhelming and do not try to convince me the Feds can do a better job...they cannot due anything better then Private sector and in most cases the States management much, much better...They face the locals everyday...The Feds, well they face EAST!!!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tony Bynum wrote 1 year 39 weeks ago

Great reporting! Love the energy and the enthusiasm of the state of Arizona, it's just too bad they don't spend it on things that will cost less in the long run. Blowing millions on paying lawyers for a fight like this is a waste of tax payer dollars. It's amazing to me what people consider wise use of limited resources. I'm all for states rights, but we are a democratic republic and in the case of public (federal) lands, the states lack the fundamental rights to take over federal lands (try collecting taxes on those federal lands - LOL - states cant collect taxes on federal lands) . . . in the end, it is a huge wast of limited resources during a time of extreme shortfalls. And what if they do get control of those lands, heaven forbid, are they proposing to pay the federal inlieu taxes to all the counties that are currently paid by the federal government - I guess that's you and me - for managing public lands within their counties? If so, I'd ask the state where they would get the money to replace those payments. Would they redistribute other moneys? According to the Department of Interior, the payments to arizona, which are distributed to local governments, total, for the last three years: 2010 $27,823,593, 2011 $31,546,890 2012 $32,886,575 - just asking . . .

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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