Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed two bills by fellow Republicans on Monday that asked the federal government turn over public lands to the state.
The GOP lawmakers said they wanted to use Arizona’s federal public lands as a new stream of revenue for the state.
Ducey said he shared Republican lawmakers’ concerns about Arizona’s federal lands, but vetoed the bills anyway.
Instead, Ducey signed House Bill 2658 to establish a study committee to look into the transfer of public lands to the state.
The bills by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, and Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, would have required the federal government transfer public lands to the state before 2022 and establish an interstate compact for the transfer of the lands.
Thorpe’s House Bill 2176 required the federal government to turn over all lands that do not serve a purpose outlined in the U.S. Constitution. That included national forests, wilderness areas and national historic sites and monuments such as Canyon de Chelly, Montezuma Castle and Sunset Crater Volcano. It did not include national parks such as the Grand Canyon or the Petrified Forest.
Thorpe’s measure also allowed the attorney general to file a lawsuit against the federal government to get the land back beginning in 2022, subject to funding from the Legislature.
“There’s a 5-year window, if they haven’t disposed of the land, the attorney general has the option of going in and taking legal action against the federal government,” Thorpe said recently.
A State Land Department report from 2012 found the federal government owns about 42 percent of Arizona’s land including national parks, historic sites and recreational areas.
Nearly 68 percent of Arizona voters struck down a similar proposition in 2012. Then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a separate proposal the same year over concerns about the constitutionality of the law and the effect on people holding leases on federal lands.
Barton’s House Bill 2318 allowed Arizona to join a state compact for the transfer of public lands, which Utah passed last year.
The compact establishes a commission to secure sovereignty and jurisdiction over Western states’ public lands. The commission has representatives from several Western states, including Alaska, California and Washington.
Thorpe said the measure will allow the Western states to build a coalition for a class-action lawsuit to take back federal lands.
“A class-action suit would give us a lot more standing in the court, but it would also share the costs associated with litigation,” he said.
Opponents of the measures said the federal government can manage the lands better than the state.
Sandy Bahr, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, touted the benefits of the public lands including tourism, recreation and watershed values. “They are public lands. They belong to all of us, and they belong to future generations and they do provide huge benefits” she said during committee.