Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act a preservation 3-fer

The Arizona Republic
Editorial board
Saturday, May 11, 2013

Land preservation meets national defense meets eco-tourism in a plan that protects wildlife corridors, military flight paths and the West Valley’s access to some dynamite outdoor activities. Talk about achieving multiple goals with one great idea.

It’s called the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act of 2013. It includes no private land and involves no land trades.

What it does is add important layers of protection to more than 950,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management property in western Maricopa County.

Why enhance protections on land that is already under federal management?

Because BLM land can be sold off. Changes and development on that land could impact the military training routes essential to Luke’s mission.

This plan to avert that has been in the works for six years, winning the support of advocates for Luke Air Force Base, environmentalists, developers and politicians.

All the values matter, but the importance of this to the military is clear. These lands are a critical link between Luke and the Barry M. Goldwater Range.

According to a report prepared by the Sonoran Institute and the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, the protections extended under the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act are “an example of a low-cost measure that can prevent the encroachment of incompatible uses” and result in the permanent protection of 80 percent of Maricopa County BLM land under military training routes.

“Whatever preserves the ground, preserves the air, so by default, it’s protecting the flight corridors Luke Air Force Base utilizes when they’re training their F-16 pilots and their future F-35 pilots,” said Ron Sites, executive director and president of Fighter Country Partnership told The Republic’s David Madrid.

Luke, which has an economic impact of about $2 billion a year, is threatened by residential encroachment, and the airspace matters, too. Changes on the ground can impact flight corridors and limit access to training ranges, lessening the effectiveness of Luke’s mission.

In addition, the proposal preserves wildlife corridors, as well as assuring the West Valley will remain a gateway to a variety of recreational uses.

The three overlays proposed to accomplish the goals of the act include wilderness, national conservation areas and special management designation. Hunting, fishing and grazing still would be allowed, and private-property owners would retain access to their land. Existing mining claims would not be affected.

The plan was introduced into Congress last month as HR 1799 by Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. He remains the sole sponsor, something that needs to change if this solid plan is to begin achieving the multiple purposes it is designed to serve.

What’s at stake here transcends partisan politics, so we hope other members of the delegation take a look, contribute their expertise and help achieve the many worthy goals this conservation/national security/recreation bill envisions for Arizona.