Ariz. rep introduces bill to preserve 1M acres of Sonoran Desert

Posted: May 2, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, Greenwire
Sonoran Desert

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) last week introduced a bill that would conserve nearly 1 million acres of Sonoran Desert lands, a move aimed at protecting both wildlife habitat and adjacent military bases.

Grijalva's H.R. 1799, which encompasses parts of his district and that of Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, would create two new national conservation areas covering nearly 700,000 acres, new wilderness covering 291,000 acres and two special management areas to preserve movement of wildlife, according to a summary of the bill.

It seeks to protect native habitat and recreational opportunities west of Phoenix while lowering the cost for nearby military installations -- including the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMGR) -- to protect endangered species. It would also prevent encroachment around Luke Air Force Base, which employs 7,000 and generates an estimated $2.1 billion annually in economic impacts, according to bill proponents.

Supporters of the measure, including the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, the Wilderness Society and the Sonoran Institute, say the bill is backed by military advocacy groups and retired military personnel.

"Legislative measures that conserve federal lands around military installations can accomplish a number of fiscally prudent benefits for the Department of Defense," Jim Uken, retired director for BMGR, said in a statement. "In a tough budget environment, preserving lands for wildlife outside of the BMGR helps the Department of Defense avoid costly endangered species mitigation measures down the road as Arizona continues to grow and develop."

While the bill carries no co-sponsors, Grijalva is lobbying other members of the state's delegation, including Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, to raise support, a spokesman said.

Grijalva is the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. No hearing on the bill has been scheduled.

The bill would permanently protect about 80 percent of the Bureau of Land Management tracts underneath military training routes, nearly doubling current protections, bill proponents said.

Local supporters of the bill, including the mayor of Buckeye, Ariz., and Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, said the measure would enhance quality of life for West Valley communities. Much of the area to be conserved is within a short drive of Phoenix.

The conserved lands were once used by prehistoric Hohokam people, Spanish explorers, U.S. Army expeditions, cowboys, ranchers and hardrock miners.



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