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Value of public land includes beauty of nature, sustained economy

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Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke just released an artificial “report” about his intentions regarding national monuments, citing no specifics on boundary adjustments or reduction of protections. While his specific recommendations remain secret, his recent comments indicate that a total area several times the size of Yosemite National Park could be lost to mining, drilling, and logging. Protections for tens of thousands of Native American sacred sites could be eliminated. Though vague and careless, Zinke’s report sends a clear message: he doesn’t care about Americans’ public lands.

Fernandez

Fernandez

Monuments in Arizona have value far beyond what can be quantified by monetary measures. These public lands offer a glimpse into our state’s history that my grandchildren and their grandchildren can experience. Our state is more than the materials we produce. It is a state that has open spaces with desert air, rich with the scent of creosote after a rain. It is starry skies following spectacular sunsets and camping under a full moon.

In Arizona, Zinke is still toying with Vermilion Cliffs, Sonoran Desert, and Ironwood Forest. These are beautiful and culturally and biologically rich parts of our state that provide habitat for a multitude of plants and animals, including the iconic California condor and desert bighorn sheep, and a diminutive endangered cactus.

These public lands also help to sustain our economy. Their designations as national monuments are important economic indicators. For example, since its protection, the areas near Vermillion Cliffs saw a 45 percent increase in real income and 25 percent job growth per Headwaters Economics.

And that is not all. Outdoor tourism and recreation bring $10.6 billion to our state’s economy every year – and national numbers are even more impressive. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation industry provides $887 billion in consumer spending, $65 billion in federal tax revenue, and 7.2 million jobs across the country. If the Trump administration is truly concerned about our economy, why is it actively targeting our public lands?

These places have driven our outdoor economy that employs local residents, gives Americans the opportunity to enjoy the various benefits of the outdoors, and preserves the culture and history of those who have lived and thrived there long before the Declaration of Independence. The fact that the administration is even considering the rollback of these community-supported protections is an attack on our democracy and on the legacy we will leave for future generations.

Decisions about the fate of these public lands should not depend upon national politics, but should be informed by the value of these special places to Arizonans and to the country. Now is the time for Arizona leaders, including those in the congressional delegation, to resist these attacks on environmental safeguards and public lands protections. Now is the time for Arizonans and all Americans to remind Secretary Zinke and the president that these national monuments are not here for their cronies to exploit, but these are places of enormous beauty, cultural significance, and biological richness. We must keep them – all of them – protected.

I ask all Arizonans to join me in contacting your members of Congress, our two U.S. senators, and the governor. Ask them to stand strong against this attack on our public lands and to keep these important land and cultural and natural resource protections in place. Say no to carving up these national monuments for the profit of a few short-term special interests.

— Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, represents Legislative District 4.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

One comment

  1. Representative Fernandez’s concern for Arizona’s natural resources is laudable but misguided. If the people of Arizona want to protect these sites, the state legislature is the right place to do it, not Congress. Instead of begging our “masters” in Washington to do our bidding, she should take responsibility for their protection by introducing legislation right here to do the job and working to get it to the governor’s desk.

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