Plan for Arizona’s Agua Fria National Monument signals progress

Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona. Courtesy BLM.

There’s a place in southern Arizona The Wilderness Society has been working for some time to protect. Just outside of Phoenix lies the Agua Fria National Monument. The monument is home to over 450 distinct Native American structures and is a blend of desert and semi-desert eco systems. Recently the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized the Resource Management Plan (RMP) for Agua Fria National Monument.

The plan took 8 years to complete with a lot of hard work from many people including the BLM, stakeholders, conservation groups, and the general public. It is the most progressive land use plan for a National Monument we’ve seen out of the Arizona BLM to date. The enhanced protection status also provides greater habitat protection for the numerous plant and animal communities. The Wilderness Society is pretty happy about that.

On Jan. 11, 2000, President Clinton passed proclamations establishing the Agua Fria and the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monuments. Soon to follow were proclamations creating Ironwood Forest, Vermilion Cliffs, and Sonoran Desert National Monuments. All five of these monuments were designated in Arizona and all five are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, with the exception of the Grand Canyon-Parashant which is jointly managed by the BLM and the Park Service. This makes Arizona the state with the most BLM-managed national monuments, all of which are part of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System. The Conservation System is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, with Agua Fria being one of the places being placed in the System during the first year.

Shortly after designation, the BLM began drafting land use plans for all five Arizona Monuments that would govern and guide BLM management for the next two decades. In 2008, the BLM completed the plans for the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments.

Overall, the Agua Fria plan is much more conservation-oriented than the plans for Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs Monuments. For example, over 80% of Agua Fria is designated for a primitive and undeveloped experience where visitors can hunt, camp, and hike in a more natural setting without the constant buzz of motors disrupting the solitude of the desert. In contrast, the current plan for Grand Canyon-Parashant designated a spider web of routes, several of which were off-road trails that were directly prohibited by the proclamation creating the monument.

The Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert National Monuments are in the middle of land use planning right now. We look forward to continuing our participation in these important plans and hope to see many of the conservation-minded decisions carried forward from the Agua Fria National Monument plan.

The important ecosystem and cultural values of the Sonoran Desert face many threats from the rapid proliferation of invasive species to unfettered off-road vehicle use. The BLM should take the opportunity to craft land use plans for the Ironwood Forest and Sonoran Desert National Monuments that protect the natural ecosystem and cultural resources by limiting motorized use to what is necessary for access only and providing strong protections for all wilderness quality lands within the Monuments. The BLM will only do this if you get involved in the public process as these plans are released this summer.

photo: Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona. Courtesy BLM.