In response to the article in Payson Roundup by Pete Aleshire, “Proposition challenges control of federal lands,” we would like to present the case for retrieval of Arizona’s public lands.
The foundational issue for Arizona and the western land states is economic. Additionally, the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, as well as the Arizona Farm Bureau, two very mainstream organizations, endorse Proposition 120.
This past legislative session, the Utah Legislature passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act (iHB148 2012). This bill enjoyed the bipartisan support of nearly 80 percent of the Utah Legislature.
... iithe proceedings of the signing ceremony, the Transfer of Public Lands Act was broadly supported by a wide coalition of stakeholders from school districts to the congressional delegation.
Since passing this landmark legislation, legislators and leaders in several other western states (New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, etc.) are preparing similar bills to join with Utah in the effort to compel the federal government to merely honor to the western states, iiithe same promise to “extinguish title” to the public lands that it made and kept with the states east of Colorado.
The question has been asked: Why should the last 10 states in the lower 48 enter the Union unequally from the first 38 states? Shouldn’t the western states enjoy the same economic advantages of land, as have the first 38 states following independence?
During the Centennial Year and 50th Session of the Arizona Legislature, legislation was introduced in Arizona similar to that signed into law in neighboring Utah. ivThe motive is simple: net private lands comprise less than 15 percent of Arizona’s land area. We receive Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) from the national government rather than the full values of the lands were they to be taxed as private lands. PILT is simply more national debt.
Returning public lands to the state as originally practiced, would allow for both the wise stewardship of the lands as well as allowing Arizona to realize the economic potential of the lands within our borders. Presently we sit helplessly as millions of acres are destroyed by wildfire due to the best of intentions, but questionable management practices.
There is solid law and history to support this endeavor. First however, the “old normal” must be replaced by facts long since forgotten.
In the 1830s and 1840s, the federal government had for decades retained control (and failed to dispose) of nearly 90 percent of the public lands in Illinois and other “western states” of that era. Those states iunderstood vthe history of the “great national public trust” to dispose of the public lands (a) only to create new states and (b) to use the proceeds only to pay down the national debt, vi(ii)they knew their rights (see page 3 of the link for example), vii(ii)they banded together, and ivthey refused to take no for an answer in demanding the transfer of title to their public lands so they could fund education, grow their economies, foster abundant, well-paying jobs, through the responsible deployment of their rich and plentiful minerals and natural resources.
They were ultimately successful in compelling Congress to dispose of virtually all of their public lands under the Graduated Price Act of 1854, to the benefit of these states and to the greater economic vitality of the nation. Today, the “western states” of the 1830s have only about 3 to 4 percent federally controlled lands.
The federal government’s promise at statehood to “extinguish title” to (to dispose of) the public lands in the “western states” of the 1830s is in many cases word-for-word the same as the promise to today’s western states which the federal government has failed to honor.
Today more than 50 percent of all lands in the West are still controlled by the federal government. In Gila County, for example, federally managed lands comprise over 96 percent.
Today’s western states have trillions of dollars of abundant minerals and natural resources viii(in fact according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming have more recoverable oil than the rest of the world combined) locked up in federally controlled lands, while their ixchildren suffer with the toughest ability to increase education funding and with nearly 50 percent of their state budgets derived from a fiscally suicidal federal government.
Today’s western states also suffer from federal mismanagement of the public lands that is xdoubling the acreage of wildfires, doubling the intensity of these fires, doubling the cost to do so, all the while spewing billions of pounds of pollution, killing tens of millions of animals, destroying life and property, and decimating vital watershed for decades. The recent Wallow Fire alone set Arizona’s endangered species back generations. Our great-grandchildren will still see the scars of that environmental catastrophe.
The historic facts are irrefutable as is legal precedent. Arizona is capable of managing our lands for both environmental preservation as well as economic development. Wise local management and use of Arizona’s native wealth, will yield a fine harvest for our schools, our citizens’ health care, our aging infrastructure, and it will create jobs independent of the federal government — all the while providing for generations, the beauty of Arizona’s public lands.
With the restoration of Arizona’s public lands, we can provide for our children’s future without the old paradigm of constant rounds of “enhanced investments” better known as “tax increases.” For the Arizona and, the western land states, this can become the “new normal.”