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AZ Voters to Decide Fate of Pristine State Lands



July 12, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - State lands valued for scenery and wildlife could end up as subdivisions under a measure on the November ballot. Proposition 301 would eliminate the $124 million, voter-approved Land Conservation Fund and use the money instead to help balance the state budget.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, says people often believe mistakenly that state trust lands will be preserved, when they're actually subject to sale to the highest bidder.

"I get calls all the time where people say, 'Oh, I live next to these state lands and the Realtor said they're state lands so you don't have to worry about that.' Of course you do, because a lot of the state trust land in the urban areas will be developed."

The Land Conservation Fund was created when voters approved the Growing Smarter Act in 1998. The fund has matched community dollars used to buy trust land for major preserves near Flagstaff, Phoenix, Prescott, Scottsdale and Tucson. Legislative leaders say it's more important that the money be used to reduce the state's projected billion-dollar-plus budget deficit.

Bahr says Scottsdale, for example, has plans to use conservation fund dollars to expand its McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

"There are some state trust lands that are not the mountains themselves, but provide some important connections, including to the Tonto National Forest - very spectacular Sonoran Desert lands."

Bahr says lawmakers are required to get voter approval to divert the conservation money to balancing the state budget.

"The only reason the legislature hasn't taken this money is because it's protected by the Voter Protection Act provisions of the Arizona Constitution. Otherwise, they would have just swept it."

Bahr says the conservation fund is the only dedicated source of money available to buy state trust land for preservation.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ