Our Turn: Lawmakers are Raiding Parks (Again)

PNI 0712 hike wenima.jpg[Source: Arizona Republic,  February 29, 2016] –Wildlife’s political life seems to have come full circle since 1990 when by a 2-to-1 margin Arizona’s voters gave us the Heritage Fund, $20 million from the Lottery to be spent solely for Arizona’s parks and wildlife.

Half of the money was given in public trust to the Arizona State Parks Board, to support and manage Arizona’s park system. This money was taken by the Legislature in 2010 for budget balancing.

SERIES: Arizonans love state parks, lawmakers don’t

The other half of this money was given by the people to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, again in public trust, to administer on behalf of Arizona’s wildlife. Twenty-four percent of this money was dedicated exclusively for acquisition of habitat for the benefit and conservation of sensitive wildlife species. Over the past 25 years, Game and Fish commissioners battled hard to protect those funds, especially the Acquisition Fund.

All past commissions believed that these funds — they amount to about $2.4 million a year — needed to be protected at all cost. After all, this fund was one of the crown jewels of the Heritage Voter Initiative. In the state parks half, there was $1.8 million available for such wonders as Kartchner Caverns, the San Rafael Ranch and the Sonoita Creek Natural Area. Such purchases are no longer possible following the legislative sweep.

RELATED: Parks experiencing record visitors

The acquisitions of Sipes White Mountain Ranch, White Water Draw, Wenima and other similar properties resulted from careful spending of Game and Fish’s funds. Now, sadly, those funds are in serious jeopardy.

In this legislative session, the commission has proposed Senate Bill 1361, which would deplete the acquisition fund by up to 50 percent to pay for operations and maintenance of the 16 properties it has acquired. Yes, operations and maintenance are important when you buy property, but it takes a good, full public process — not a legislative sweep — to help solve that problem.

In 2014, the commission made a good start by appointing the Heritage Working Group to study and make recommendations for these solutions. This group studied for months. It made recommendations, lengthy ones, which are now either being misrepresented or ignored altogether.

Among other things, the group recommended that 5 percent of the acquisition fund could be moved (with more public input) to the greater part of the Heritage Fund where operations and maintenance are in statute already. That’s 5 percent, not 50 percent, and with more public process.

MORE: Top 10 state and national parks in Arizona

After all, this is not the commission’s money — it is the people’s money. The voters created this fund and directed the commission, as public trustees, to spend it in a specific manner.

Is this concept important anymore? It is now up to the people to speak up and stop this latest – the 40th, we think – raid of the Heritage Fund. If you value the Heritage Fund and its importance to Arizona’s wildlife, please make your voices heard as the bill, now in the Senate, moves through the Legislature.

Bill McLean, Beth Woodin, and Bob Hernbrode are former members of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. Woodin is the president of the Board of the Arizona Heritage Alliance, and Hernbrode is vice president of the Tucson Audubon Board and a biologist. (Photo: Mare Czinar/Special for The Republic)

Love Arizona parks? Then get out there and use them

635528131686761919-VerdeKayak-CVR[Arizona Republic Editorial board, December 8, 2014] – There’s a big difference between idealizing a faraway river and feeling the current beneath your boat. That distinction matters to Arizona’s state parks, and the Arizona State Parks Foundation understands why.

When city folks express support for the state parks, it represents a casual friendship. When people get out there and experience the real thing, it leads to a committed, long-term relationship — a relationship worth working to preserve and enrich.

“The more people we get into the parks, the more people will be actively interested in the parks,” says Bill Meek, president of the parks foundation board. “We need to get people out there experiencing what we’ve got.”

An engaged constituency is essential because politicians have not been good to the parks. Funding was stripped during the recession, and the current budget deficit may lead to more pain.

Lack of funding translates into at least $80 million in capital needs at the 31 natural, historic and archaeological sites that make up the state parks system. In addition to funding to keep the sites safe and well maintained, more than $200 million in capital projects have been requested to provide better experiences for visitors.

The problem is not a lack of public support. Over the years, Arizonans have shown continued support for parks in polls, through surveys and at the ballot box. In 1990, they approved the Heritage Fund, which targeted $10 million annually to the parks from Lottery revenues.

The problem is lack of public engagement. Consider this: Lawmakers stripped Heritage funding from the parks during the Great Recession while letting it continue to flow to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Hunters and anglers form a strong and active constituency. Lawmakers didn’t ignore them.

The constituency for state parks is much broader and less actively engaged politically.

Enter an idea that could help raise money and public consciousness on behalf of these state treasures.

Verde River kayak tours run by the Verde River Institute and the parks foundation include a guide to interpret the flora and fauna, as well as stops at local communities and a tasting session at a winery cooperative.

The $200 fee includes a $115 donation to the parks foundation. Tours this fall brought in about $5,000, which will become seed money to develop a business plan to expand the tours, parks foundation Executive Director Cristie Statler told The Arizona Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl.

Meek says if the tours are expanded, they could develop a funding stream that lawmakers could not sweep. He says parks systems around the country are using “social enterprise,” an idea that uses commercial strategies to benefit human or environmental needs. That’s the kind of creative thinking our parks need in these tough budget times.

But that’s not all.

Giving people a hands-on experience with resources they had not previously touched deepens their understanding and appreciation. It builds deep commitment. That makes them more likely to “take action and talk to their legislators,” says Doug Von Gausig, director of the Verde River Institute. He leads the river tours.

The more opportunities people have to experience the state parks, the more committed Arizonans will be to speak up for these amazing places.

Source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/editorial/2014/12/07/state-parks-benefit-engaged-constituency/20058401/

7 ways to pay for great state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – The ominous clouds hanging over Arizona State Parks need to start raining money. Parks managers struggle to protect valuable resources with no money from the General Fund. Unique remnants of Arizona’s heritage have lost dedicated money streams meant to protect them.

At risk are playgrounds for urban Arizonans and sources of tourism for rural residents. At stake is the chance for your children and grandchildren to travel through time from cave formations that began 200,000 years ago to prehistoric Indian ruins to a Spanish presidio to a territorial prison — and wrap it all up by waterskiing across a man-made lake.

What’s at stake is something irreplaceable and beloved. “It’s time people got their dander up and told the Legislature this is one thing that touches their lives,” says Ken Travous, former executive director of Arizona State Parks.

Here’s what people should tell lawmakers:

Restore the State Parks share of the Heritage Fund. In 1990, voters approved $10 million a year from Lottery revenues for parks. During the recession, lawmakers took that funding. Several attempts to restore it have failed at the Legislature. It’s past time to give it back.

Restore the authority of State Parks to spend money raised from gate fees, gift shops and other money-making enterprises. Park managers used to put increased revenue to work for the parks. Now they need legislative authorization to spend the money the parks make. Beginning in 2003, that enhancement fund was swept by lawmakers and used to supplant General Fund appropriations.

Encourage innovation and resource development through parks’ concessions and development. Parks Director Bryan Martyn is looking at a plan to contract with a single concessionaire for all the state parks. It could result in more investment in the parks if the private contractor serving big money-makers, such as Lake Havasu, also is required to develop resources in less-visited parks. The State Parks Board needs to carefully scrutinize any contract to make sure it serves the public’s best interest.

Recognize the need to create additional sources of permanent dedicated funding. A 2009 Morrison Institute report put the cost of operating and maintaining the parks at $40 million to $44 million a year. The current budget is half that. In addition, the parks have at least $80 million in capital needs. The idea of a surcharge or voluntary donation on vehicle registration has been floated — and rejected by lawmakers — since 2009. It is a painless way for people to add $5 or $10 every year to benefit state parks.

Dedicated means dedicated. Protect funds that benefit the parks from legislative raids or sweeps.

Restore the authority of the State Parks Board to hire and fire the parks director. That position became a political appointee with 2012 changes in the state personnel system. The director now serves at the pleasure of the governor. The parks board lost clout. The director lost the independence of being insulated from a governor’s whims.

Face facts. “No state parks system in the United States pays for itself from earned revenue,” according to the Morrison Institute report, “The Price of Stewardship: The Future of Arizona’s State Parks.” Parks need more than they get from Arizona’s Legislature. They deserve more.

Arizonans demonstrated their support by establishing the Heritage Fund in 1990, and they reiterated that sentiment nearly two decades later when a Gallup Arizona poll released by the Center for the Future of Arizona found that “the state’s natural beauty and open spaces are seen by citizens as our greatest asset.”

It’s time to stop stiffing state parks.

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WHAT YOU CAN DO

Arizona State Parks are a resource for today and a promise for tomorrow. But short-sighted funding decisions imperil their future. You can help change that.

  • VISIT. Arizona’s state parks offer dazzling natural wonders, family recreational activities and authentic windows into Arizona’s history and prehistory. azstateparks.com
  • BE A CHAMPION. There’s an election coming up. Ask candidates for state office how they plan to support Arizona’s parks and let them know you want this to be a priority issue.
  • GET INVOLVED. More than a dozen parks have volunteer “friends” groups that provide fund-raising and other services for their chosen park. For information on joining or starting one: azstateparks.com/volunteer/v_foundation.html

Arizona State Parks Foundation is a non-profit that engages in advocacy, fund-raising, and other support. Visit their website at arizonastateparksfoundation.org  The Arizona Heritage Alliance is a non-profit that promotes and protects the Heritage Fund and its goals: azheritage.org

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ABOUT THIS SERIES

Arizona State Parks are a valuable resource in great peril. Stripped of funding during the recession, they struggle without state money and stagger under deferred maintenance. Yet they offer open spaces and outdoor recreation for a growing urban population and an economic engine for rural communities. Popular with the public, but lacking political support, funding solutions can help the parks deliver on their remarkable potential.

State parks, a vision now out of reach

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – The bulldozers were a distant rumble when the push began in 1973 to create Catalina State Park north of Tucson. It took another decade before the land could be acquired and the park dedicated by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt.

The land was remote then. Its 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams lie between Tucson and Oracle, near the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, where the Coronado National Forest climbs up into the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The park, dotted with 5,000 saguaros, is so rugged that desert bighorn sheep were relocated there. More than 150 species of birds live within its boundaries.

Today, the park is anything but remote. A bustling shopping center sits across from the park entrance. Development tickles the boundaries.

Without the vision of state leaders 40 years ago, this pristine piece of Arizona could be covered with houses and 7-Elevens today.

Today, creating a Catalina State Park would be impossible. Buying the land “would be out of reach,” says Ken Travous, who was executive director of Arizona State Parks for 23 years. “It was almost out of reach then.”

Catalina draws a wide variety of visitors even on a weekday. Campgrounds are full and horses wait in the corrals at the equestrian center.

The value of this lush, open desert in an increasingly urban landscape far exceeds dollars and cents. The wisdom of those who preserved it sings on the wind through the needles of a saguaro: Prescient. Far-sighted.

As Arizona’s population grows and the cost of land increases, places like Catalina become even more important to a state shaped by its wide, open spaces.

The same is true of other state parks that celebrate the state’s natural beauty, as well as those that recall the past, such as the historic courthouse in Tombstone, the Spanish presidio in Tubac, the prehistoric ruins at Homolovi (closed for a year because of budget cuts) and the world-class geological formations in Kartchner Caverns. And don’t forget the bikini country of Lake Havasu or water skiing at Lyman Lake.

These are picture-postcard places where families make memories and rural communities make bank.

Nearly 2.5 million people visit the state parks each year, with half coming from out of state, says State Parks Director Bryan Martyn.

The parks are a playground for urban Arizonans, but they are an economic driver for rural areas.

Martyn says state parks bring more than $300 million to rural economies annually. That’s a powerful economic driver, but years of funding cuts have left those who run the parks unable to keep up with necessary repairs, let alone acquire new parks for future generations.

“Simply put, without a stable, sustainable funding, Arizona’s park system will not be able to survive,” according to a 2009 report from Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute.

When it comes to the consequences of not putting resources into our parks, Travous puts it even more bluntly:

“It will get to the point where they are so hammered you don’t want to go there.”

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WHAT YOU CAN DO

Arizona State Parks are a resource for today and a promise for tomorrow. But short-sighted funding decisions imperil their future. You can help change that.

  • VISIT. Arizona’s state parks offer dazzling natural wonders, family recreational activities and authentic windows into Arizona’s history and prehistory. azstateparks.com
  • BE A CHAMPION. There’s an election coming up. Ask candidates for state office how they plan to support Arizona’s parks and let them know you want this to be a priority issue.
  • GET INVOLVED. More than a dozen parks have volunteer “friends” groups that provide fund-raising and other services for their chosen park. For information on joining or starting one: azstateparks.com/volunteer/v_foundation.html

Arizona State Parks Foundation is a non-profit that engages in advocacy, fund-raising and other support:arizonastateparksfoundation.org

The Arizona Heritage Alliance is a non-profit that promotes and protects the Heritage Fund and its goals: azheritage.org

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ABOUT THIS SERIES

Arizona State Parks are a valuable resource in great peril. Stripped of funding during the recession, they struggle without state money and stagger under deferred maintenance. Yet they offer open spaces and outdoor recreation for a growing urban population and an economic engine for rural communities. Popular with the public, but lacking political support, funding solutions can help the parks deliver on their remarkable potential.