Sonoran Desert, Arizona.
The Wilderness Society and the Arizona Wilderness Coalition commend Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Dist. 3) for reintroducing legislation designed to preserve critical wildlife habitat and recreation west of Phoenix, safeguard the viability of Luke Air Force Base and the Barry M. Goldwater Range, and protect environmental amenities to boost economic opportunities for West Valley communities.
The legislation (H.R. 2926) has garnered strong support across western Maricopa County from an array of conservation organizations, businesses, military interest groups, churches, developers, and West Valley elected officials since it was first introduced in March 2013. The roughly 954,600 acres of public lands encompassed by the bill are west of Phoenix, and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). There are no private lands or land exchanges included in the legislation. The measure was awarded for its creative approach to solving development challenges by the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association. The bill calls for a mixture of wilderness, national conservation areas (NCA), and special management area designations to be created on the BLM lands.
"As Arizona’s economy continues to improve and pressure increases to dispose of public lands for housing and other growth, it is imperative that Congress engage in creative means toward protecting the mission viability of installations like the Barry Goldwater Range (BMGR), Luke Air Force Base and others that critically support our national defense training," said Jim Uken, retired director for the U.S. Air Force side of the BMGR. "This bill helps preserve important wildlife lands outside these facilities, which in turn helps the military avoid costly endangered species mitigation measures if wildlife are potentially pushed into smaller and smaller pockets of land. This is a fiscally prudent bill that proactively responds to threats that our Arizona military installations are facing."
A report issued in 2013 from the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute and the Arizona Wilderness Coalition shows long-term, no-cost benefits of legislated conservation measures to support Arizona’s military operations from Luke Air Force Base, MCAS Yuma, the Western Army Aviation Training Site in Marana, Davis-Monthan Air Force and the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson—all of which use the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMG) to train their personnel in flight or land-based combat maneuvers. The legislation could result in the permanent protection of 80% of Maricopa County federal lands under military training routes (MTRs)—more than 650 square miles of additional protective designations—and nearly doubling the amount that is protected today.
With over 7,000 employees and a financial impact of over $2.1 billion annually, Luke Air Force Base is critical to the state of Arizona’s economic viability. Together with the eight other military installations that train in air space over western Maricopa County and on the Barry M. Goldwater Range, the economic impact to Arizona communities from military facilities totals approximately $9 billion.
Protecting Open Spaces and Quality of Life
The legislation will enhance the evolution of West Valley communities into gateways for premier outdoor destinations. According to the Department of the Interior, recreation visits to Interior-managed lands result in over 316,000 jobs and nearly $25 billion in economic impacts each year to the communities and regions surrounding Interior-managed lands. In Arizona, outdoor recreation generates $10.6 billion in consumer spending per year, more than 100,000 direct Arizona jobs, and $3.3 billion in wages and salaries for Arizonans.
"The Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage proposal has been shaped both by the needs of the land and by the needs and desires of different stakeholders within our larger communities and carefully balances multiple uses to provide for future generations the many benefits of our wonderful Sonoran Desert," said Mike Quigley, Arizona State Director for The Wilderness Society. "We’re very happy that Congressman Grijalva remains dedicated to conservation in Arizona and we urge to rest of our delegation to take positive action on this bill."
Much of the area identified in the bill can be found within a short driving distance of greater Phoenix. Proximity of these lands to the West Valley’s growing urban centers necessitates careful management to minimize the impact of residents and tourists on wildlife habitat across this iconic Arizona landscape.
“Arizona is a unique state depending on both a military economy and our precious natural landscapes,” said Barbara Hawke, Executive Director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “This bill embraces a strong future for our state, a future that holds prosperity for our citizens and preservation of our stunning landscapes and valuable wildlife habitat.”
2013 Military Report: Strategies to Protect Arizona's $9 Billion Military Economy: Western Maricopa County Military Land Use Nexus
More on the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act: www.sonoranheritage.org
The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 700,000 members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition works to protect and restore wilderness and other wild lands and waters for the enjoyment of all citizens and to ensure that Arizona’s native plants and animals have a lasting home in wild nature. AWC conducts volunteer-based public lands stewardship projects across the state to maintain and preserve our natural heritage.