As the chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, I have a strong desire for the public to know the position of the commission regarding our opposition to any designation of a national monument in the Grand Canyon watershed. The department’s mission statement is clear:
“To conserve Arizona’s diverse wildlife resources and manage for safe, compatible outdoor recreation opportunities for current and future generations.”
Notice the words “to conserve,” “manage” and “for current and future generations.” They are heartfelt, straight-forward words by which the department’s hundreds of dedicated employees live and work each day.
They also are words that help to explain why the chairman of one of the nation’s premier wildlife conservation organizations strongly opposes the creation of the 1.7 million-acre Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.
The commission’s opposition is based on the negative impacts that such a designation is likely to have on wildlife management across this vast expanse in northern Arizona. The Center for Biological Diversity recently stated that this proposed area already is being effectively managed, thanks to cooperation by several state and federal agencies. The department completely agrees. A need to “fix” current management practices simply doesn’t exist.
The creation of the Sonoran Desert National Monument in 2001 is a cautionary tale. In 1999, the Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists counted 103 bighorn sheep in the Maricopa Mountains, located within the monument’s boundaries in southwest Arizona. Today’s surveys indicate fewer than 35 sheep roam this area. The department’s limited access inside the monument to provide new and sustainable water sources no doubt was a contributing factor to the steep decline in the sheep population in the Maricopa Mountains. It was a harsh lesson that shouldn’t be repeated with any wildlife species anywhere else in Arizona.
Creating the Sonoran Desert National Monument additionally required the Bureau of Land Management to develop an overarching area management plan. During a lengthy 11-year planning process, the Arizona Game and Fish Department experienced detrimental delays and prohibitions for many critical wildlife management actions. This experience with monuments is not one that lends optimism when considering the Grand Canyon watershed.
The costs that come with creating — and maintaining — a national monument may well prove to be prohibitive. The National Park Service published a report detailing that the Grand Canyon National Park already is suffering with $329 million in deferred maintenance, and yet some would like to add to that financial burden. The proposed watershed area spans 1.7 million acres, compared to Grand Canyon National Park’s 1.2 million acres, begging the question: If the federal government can’t operate and maintain a world class national park at 1.2 million acres, how can anyone argue that adding 1.7 million more acres to manage would have a positive impact?
Transparency – and the lack thereof – also is a major issue in this process. Where are the opportunities to have input for Arizonans who will be directly impacted by a monument designation? The 1.7 million acres already being successfully managed will be subject to deferred management, budget shortages and increased bureaucracy. The department’s mission is to speak on behalf of the well-being of wildlife that doesn’t have a voice. Unfortunately, in this process, Arizonans also don’t have a voice. Arizonans deserve a transparent public process.
I respectfully submit that these 1.7 million acres continue to be responsibly managed under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service and BLM and not designated a national monument.
– Robert Mansell is chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.