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Bill to Benefit AZ Wildlife, Military

PHOTO: The proposed Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act would protect flight corridors for Luke Air Force Base training missions. CREDIT: City of Goodyear.
PHOTO: The proposed Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act would protect flight corridors for Luke Air Force Base training missions. CREDIT: City of Goodyear.
April 29, 2013

PHOENIX - Nearly a million acres of public lands, mainly in western Maricopa County, which has Phoenix as its seat, would be preserved as wilderness, national conservation and special management areas under a bill introduced by Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva.

According to Grijalva, the measure would benefit wildlife, the state's military bases, and the tourism economy.

"One of the key ones is of course the environmental protection that would come, the conservation that would be locked into place, and as a money maker for the state, those would be protected for the long haul," the congressman said.

He said the Air Force's Barry Goldwater Range would also be protected from encroachment by development.

The Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act is the result of years of work by a diverse collection of interests, including conservationists, developers, and military interest groups.

A major goal of the legislation is protection of flight corridors on the Goldwater Range, used for pilot training by several military bases in the state. According to the Range's retired director, Jim Uken, both the military and wildlife, such as the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope, stand to benefit.

"To me it's more than a natural marriage because we would like to preclude further urbanization underneath those corridors, and those same corridors then could serve as wildlife corridors between different areas to the west of Phoenix, for example," Uken said.

Ron Sites is president of Fighter Country Partnership, a non-profit advocacy group for Luke Air Force Base. In addition to protecting Luke's military training routes, Sites said, the Sonoran Desert Act will provide a buffer around the Goldwater Range.

"If they run into a situation where there's endangered species on some of the lands that are off the range, and because of development they get forced onto the range, those create some challenges for the Department of Defense and the Air Force when they're managing those lands," he said.

Grijalva said his bill will not affect hunting, game and fish management, existing grazing permits or utility corridors. And it deals only with public lands.

"There's no taking, there's no eminent domain, there is no private land," he declared. "These are already federal land. We're doing a consolidation. Some have been redesignated as wilderness, but essentially, we're talking about no additional acquisition."

Grijalva said he's heard no objections to his bill from the rest of the state's congressional delegation, and hopes several of them will sign onto the measure as co-sponsors.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ