A monumental mistake

Glenn Hamer

January 22, 2016

The Arizona Chamber Foundation and the Prosper Foundation just released their joint policy brief entitled, “The Proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument: A Monumental Mistake?”

If you didn’t think a policy paper on state and federal land management could be a page-turner, then you haven’t read this paper. It provides a perfect snapshot of an administration in D.C. that is completely out of touch with the unique issues facing the West.

The paper was the centerpiece of the discussion at the latest Arizona Chamber Leadership Series breakfast, which featured a conversation with Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Jon Kyl.

On the issues that will profoundly affect Arizona’s future, like water, fire and land management, you won’t find two leaders with their depth of experience and insight. Ten years ago, Time Magazine named Sen. McCain and then-Sen. Kyl two of the nation’s 10 Best U.S. Senators. Arizona was the only state to have both of its senators on the list. A decade later, their teamwork is still impacting Arizona in a positive way.

The senators’ message was that we should all be very wary of the federal government’s attempts to manage Arizona’s land and water resources.

The foundations’ analysis centers on President Obama’s proposed designation of 1.7 million acres of northern Arizona as the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.

Arizona and the federal government have historically enjoyed a multiple-use partnership on the almost 70 percent of land in the state that is federally controlled. With less than 20 percent of land in Arizona in private hands, the multiple-use relationship has been a critical component of the state’s economic vitality.

President Obama’s proposed monument designation completely upends that partnership, though, “drastically reducing public access, impeding efficient land management, representing unwarranted and unwanted federal overreach,” according to the paper.

This new monument designation would not be the first time the feds overreached into Arizona’s environmental management. There’s the EPA’s carbon emission reduction plan, which is likely to lead to higher energy bills for Arizona ratepayers; the Waters of the U.S. rule, which would bring vast swaths of land under federal jurisdiction; a proposed EPA ozone rule that would put the entire state into a non-attainment status; an “exceptional events” rule that has the feds wagging their finger at us for dust storms we can’t control; and the Endangered Species Act that affects dozens of species in Arizona and hamstrings our economic development.

The president is relying on the over-100-year-old Antiquities Act to make his Grand Canyon land grab. Most of the state north of the Grand Canyon and a significant area between the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park and Flagstaff would be affected. We’re talking about an area larger than the state of Delaware, making it the second-largest on-land national monument. And it would encompass 64,000 acres of Arizona’s State Land Trust, assets that are intended to help a variety of beneficiaries, including the state’s K-12 schools. As the paper states, “by locking up 64,000 acres of State Trust Land, the national monument would deny the beneficial use to the State Land Trust and its beneficiaries.”

The president is proposing a solution in search of a problem. No one would argue that the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, doesn’t deserve protection. But most of the land that would be federalized is far from the Grand Canyon. As for the “watershed” part, it’s not even clear how much of the land is real watershed.

Federalizing land doesn’t necessarily preserve an area’s flora and fauna. In 1999, there were more than 100 big horn sheep in the area that was later designated the Sonoran Desert National Monument. But once it became more difficult for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish to access the area and provide new water sources, the sheep population has plummeted to fewer than 35 today. If you’re looking to Washington to manage your state’s land and wildlife, you’ve got problems.

The Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument proposal is one that should be permanently shelved, and we in the West must send that message to the administration. Arizona’s ability to grow economically is directly tied to its ability to effectively manage its land and resources. Bureaucrats in Washington already hold sway over 70 percent of the land in Arizona. They don’t need any more.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce