Preservation Group Presents Plan for West Valley

A broad and enthusiastic coalition of local leaders met Wednesday at the Wigwam Resort for the unveiling of the Sonoran Desert Heritage Proposal, an initiative aimed at planning for future development while preserving the Sonoran wilderness for future generations.

“This room is filled with an all-star cast of local leaders,” said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “This is an important milestone we’ve reached today.”

Indeed, Sonoran Desert Heritage boasts support from a wide range of people and entities, from local mayors to housing developers, wildlife preservation groups, military interest groups and churches. The public lands encompassed by the proposal are primarily in western Maricopa County and form a rough crescent shape from the northern to the southern portions of the county.

All of the lands covered in the proposal are west of the White Tank Mountains, public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The proposal was about four years in the making, and Dave Richins, director of the Sonoran Institute’s Sun Corridor Legacy Program, said he was eager to reach this step.

“It’s exciting to see this come to a point where it is ready to be vetted by the public,” he said. “We want to hear from you. We want to know what we may have missed.”

Richins, also a Mesa councilman, said he is proud of the Sonoran Desert Heritage project.

“I think in the future, people will look back and say this is how land conservation ought to be done,” he said. “It considers the future of Luke Air Force Base. It considers the economies of West Valley communities.”

An important part of the plan, he said, was to work with developers and gather their input.

“It considers the future of development,” he said. “There are some places we should be developing and there are some places we should not be. This proposal attempts to identify and protect the places we should not be developing. The goal is to protect those BLM lands now and come up with a thoughtful plan for them in the future.”

Scott McCoy, a member of the board of directors of the Fighter Country Partnership, said his organization was quick to get involved.

“It didn’t take the board long to realize this was a real opportunity to preserve not just the land but the flight corridors above that land,” he said.

John Graham of Sun Belt Holdings said it has always been his philosophy to develop land responsibly.

“You can’t have a healthy economy without a healthy environment,” he said. “And I’m proud of the effort we’ve made here. It’s really a testimony to how this process should work. The final product is something everyone can be proud of.”

Marshall Trimble, Arizona’s official historian, said this generation has been tasked with something no previous generation had to worry about.

“We have been given the responsibility of protecting our wilderness,” he said. “No previous generation had to worry about that, but we have inherited from them the role of caretakers. And we have to take care, because once it is lost it is gone forever.”

The western Maricopa County region identified in the proposal includes rugged terrain that provides an escape for hikers, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts of every kind. It is also home to a wealth of wildlife, from the bighorn sheep to the desert tortoise and the Gila monster, bobcat, and more than 300 species of native birds. Supporters indicated the goal is to develop a finished proposal before the end of the year.

To become law it will require legislation in Congress and the coalition hopes it will be considered in the 2012 session.

For more information about the proposal, visit www.sonoranheritage.org.

Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or jdempsey@yourwestvalley.com.

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