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AZ Trust Lands Proposition Would Benefit Conservation, Military

September 16, 2010

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Proposition 110 on the November ballot would amend the Arizona constitution to permit land swaps between the state and federal governments. The purpose for the exchange could be land conservation or to protect the state's military bases from encroaching development that can contribute to base closures.

The measure's sponsor, State Sen. John Nelson, says Arizona has no money right now to buy up trust land around the bases to prevent development and the possible loss of a vital part of the state's economy.

"The military income is inflation-proof. It's recession-proof. It comes in consistently and constantly and to me it's a good investment. If we can't buy the land to help them, then we ought to find other ways of preserving the bases."

The proposal would allow the exchange of state trust lands for federal property - such as Bureau of Land Management or national forest lands - but only after an exhaustive process of public hearings and legislative approval.

State trust lands are typically sold to the highest bidder for development. Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, says exchanges permitted by the ballot measure could help resolve situations where isolated chunks of trust lands threaten prime conservation areas, such as one parcel in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

"None of us want to see that parcel of land developed. This would provide a mechanism for conserving that land, and likewise, lands up at the headwaters of the Verde River."

Bahr and Nelson agree that the measure's requirements for a land exchange will guarantee everyone a voice, especially voters. Nelson says each exchange will start with at least two appraisals, two public hearings and an evaluation by the state land department.

"If they recommend for it, it goes to the House, the Senate and the governor. It has to be referred, and it goes on the next ballot for the public to vote on."

The legislature voted unanimously to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot. There has been no organized opposition.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ