6 reasons we must defeat land-grab mania in Arizona & keep Our Wild public

Across the West and in Arizona, a dangerous movement of radical fringe groups and oil, mining and other development interests are buying off politicians to “transfer” America’s federal wildlands to the states where they can be sold to private companies for profit. We are committed to stopping this and keeping #OurWild public for all.

Some national public lands like Canyon de Chelly National Monument would have been turned over to the state under previous "land takeover" proposals in Arizona. Image by MortAuPat, flickr.

Over the last few years, multiple bills have been introduced by anti-conservation politicians in Arizona to turn millions of acres of Our Wild over to the state—and in one case, even granting the state or counties the right to build roads over public lands. Some of these bills have been vetoed or defeated in ballot measures, but with land takeover fever gaining strength across the region, the threat is very real. In 2015, Governor Doug Ducey vetoed two bills that asked the federal government turn over public lands to the state, but he still signed into law a measure to spend taxpayer dollars studying the idea further. 

In Arizona, the land takeover movement has targeted beloved wildlands, historical sites and recreation spots like Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Montezuma Castle National Monument, and national forests like the Kaibab, Prescott, Tonto, and Coronado—places where everyday Arizonans hunt, camp, hike and enjoy America's great outdoors. Simply put, we cannot allow these radical ideas to gain any more momentum. Read on to get an idea of what could happen if anti-conservation politicians get their way and take over Our Wild. 

Reasons for Americans to fight against land takeovers in Arizona  

1) Our Wild could become off-limits to regular Arizonans. After voting against three bills that demanded all national public lands in Arizona be transferred to state control, State Senator Andrea Dalessandro said her constituents were "concerned that they would lose access to public lands, and that rich people will buy up the land and they won't be able to hunt." Indeed, this is a valid concern. Many wild places are currently open for camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, biking, off-road riding and other "multiple uses." But if Arizona were to seize the lands, they would be subject to management for the purpose of generating revenue, rather than to provide people with places to recreate and enjoy nature. A report from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership expressed concern that land takeovers could close off access to sportsmen, specifically, and identified a high-profile example of a land that could be seized in the state: the "Arizona Strip," a tract managed by the Bureau of Land Management just south of Utah that contains great habitat for mule deer, bighorn sheep and bison. 

2) Arizona can't afford to manage national public lands. Arizona's state park system already struggles to pay for maintenance and improvements, and the outlook would be similarly dire for national public lands taken over by the state. Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a major "land takeover" bill in 2012 partly due to concerns over the economic "uncertainty" it would create. She said that the Arizona State Land Department would need an extra $23 million for general management costs as well as "an untold increase in staff and resources" and "potential liability costs." It is not a stretch to conclude that seized lands would soon be sold off to the highest bidder. 

3) Seizing Our Wild could hurt Arizona's outdoor economy. Across the West, Americans love to visit Our Wild for outdoor recreation or simply sightseeing. Arizona is no exception—the majority of Arizona residents participate in outdoor recreation each year—and its economy reaps the benefits. Outdoor recreation accounts for $10.6 billion in consumer spending in the state annually, directly supporting 104,000 jobs. If public land is privatized and the public locked out, a significant slice of Arizona's economy could be in jeopardy.  

4) Arizonans love Our Wild and don't want it seized by the state. People in Arizona have already made it clear that they oppose the land takeover scheme. In 2012, voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot measure that would have declared state sovereignty and "exclusive authority" over all public lands and other natural resources in Arizona. Numerous surveys back up their love of national public lands, too:

  • 71% of voters in Arizona feel that public lands are "American places that belong to the country as a whole," rather than places that belong to their respective state.
  • 75% of Arizonans say that the ability to "live near, recreate on and enjoy public lands like national parks and forests" is a factor in their decision to live in the West.

5) Arizona institutions and leaders reject the land takeover movement. It isn't "just" everyday Arizonans who love Our Wild and don't want to see them seized by the state. Many leaders, local institutions and advocacy groups have come out against this dangerous movement. Arizona Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited and other conservation and recreation groups oppose land takeover efforts. The board of supervisors in Coconino County, which contains national public lands like the Grand Canyon, Kaibab National Forest and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, unanimously resolved to oppose land takeover plans. Pima County, site of Saguaro National Park and several other national public lands, has passed a similar resolution.  

6) Wildfires would become an even bigger, more expensive problem. Wildfire is a huge issue in Arizona, commanding a sizable chunk of the state's budget. But if Arizona seized national public lands, and in the process assumed responsibility for land management on those parcels, the costs associated with controlling dangerous fires would really explode. Arizona had $5 million in its budget to fight wildfires in the year 2011, when a severe fire season forced the state to consider dipping into subsequent years' funds. Meanwhile,  the 2011 Wallow Fire, in eastern Arizona cost $109 million in suppression and initial rehabilitation of the land alone. A serious fire season could decimate Arizona's coffers. 

Take Action   

Sportsmen, business leaders, rational elected officials and conservationists are standing together to protect Our Wild and prevent land seizure measures from becoming law. But they need support to show politicians that Americans won’t tolerate these privatization efforts in Arizona or elsewhere. The threat is real, and now is the time to stand up.