Sonoran Desert Heritage Proposal Awarded ‘Best Project’ by American Planning Association-Arizona Chapter

Conservation and military benefits prove valuable to West Valley’s growing communities.

SCOTTSDALE-Today, the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association presented its "Best Project" award to the Sonoran Desert Heritage Conservation Plan (SDH)-an ambitious 950,000-acre proposal to protect federal public lands in western Maricopa County under a variety of designations like national conservation areas and wilderness, placing some of the Valley's fastest growing communities within a stone's throw to high quality recreation, backcountry solitude, and premier wildlife habitat.

"This is a proposal that embraces the very principles that planners strive to achieve when expanding our communities and looking into Arizona's future," says Jon Froke AICP, past president of the AZ Chapter of the American Planning Association. The Sonoran Desert Heritage plan is receiving this award for its collaborative approach to bettering our West Valley communities and the diverse array of options it presents to increase quality of life for residents, business owners, and tourists to this part of central Arizona." Coalition team members accepted the award at the Arizona APA's annual conference luncheon held in Scottsdale.

After nearly seven years of community outreach and stakeholder negotiations, the plan garnered congressional action in April when Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Dist. 3) introduced the Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act of 2013 to Congress. The legislation seeks to preserve critical tracts west of Phoenix that serve as important wildlife and recreation areas, safeguard the viability
of Luke Air Force Base and the Barry M. Goldwater Range, and protect environmental amenities to boost economic opportunities for West Valley communities. Most importantly, the project remains a model for the collaborative, inclusive
approach to community outreach and stakeholder engagement-features important to Arizona's planning community.

"Due to pressures on our finite natural resources and the open inclusion for all those who directly and indirectly benefit from this effort, vast generations ahead will profit from the Sonoran Desert Heritage Conservation plan," says Monty Stansbury, chairman of the AZ Chapter Awards Committee. "These were principal considerations for the Arizona Chapter of APA in bestowing the award on the SDH plan this year." 

The American Planning Association-Arizona Chapter is a 1,200-plus member organization of professional planners and planning officials who serve Arizona's communities in many ways, at all levels of government, the private sector, and not-for-profit organizations. The Sonoran Desert Heritage proposal is backed by a growing assortment of Valley leaders, including Luke Air Force Base, Arizona Forward, city and town mayors, leading developers, business and energy industries, and community, conservation, and faith groups.

The Sonoran Desert Heritage legislation (H.R. 1799) is the culmination of more than six years of locally-driven effort that has built strong support across western Maricopa County. The roughly 950,000 acres of public lands encompassed by the
bill are west of the White Tank Mountains, and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). There are no private lands or exchanges in the legislation. The bill calls for a mixture of wilderness, national conservation areas (NCA), and special management area designations to be created on the BLM lands.

According to the Department of the Interior, recreation visits to Interior-managed lands result in over 316,000 jobs and nearly $25 billion in economic impacts each year to the communities and regions surrounding Interior-managed lands. In Arizona, outdoor recreation generates $10.6 billion in consumer spending per year, more than 100,000 direct Arizona jobs, and $3.3 billion in wages and salaries for Arizonans.[i]

"Public lands in Arizona are drivers for our economy," says Ian Dowdy AICP, project manager for the Sun Corridor Legacy Program with the Sonoran Institute. "Arizona's conserved public lands and open spaces attract a high skilled work
force that sets us apart from the rest of the country. As an added benefit, land in this proposal prevents incompatible development from key training routes for Luke Air Force Base. This is a win-win-win for our economy and our quality of life."

Much of the area identified in the bill can be found within a short driving distance of greater Phoenix. Proximity of these lands to the West Valley's growing urban centers necessitates careful management to minimize the impact of residents and tourists on wildlife habitat across this iconic Arizona landscape. 

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

For more about the American Planning Association-AZ Chapter, visit www.azplanning.org.


[i] Outdoor Industry Association, 2013 Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, http://www.outdoorindustry.org/images/ore_reports/AZ-arizona-outdoorrecreationeconomy-oia.pdf