Land and Water Conservation Fund Lauded for benefiting recreation, criticized for land acquisition

Source:  ASU Now by Mary Beth Faller, September 2018

The patio of the clubhouse at Encanto Park in Phoenix was an oasis of shade on a hot, sunny day earlier this week. There, Arizona State University Professor Dale Larsen described how a federal funding program has given millions of dollars to the city to create hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas — and shady spots.

That 54-year-old program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is set to expire Sept. 30. Over five decades, Arizona has received more than $230 million from the fund, which it has passed on to municipalities for projects including South Mountain Park and Goodyear Community Park, to state parks including Lost Dutchman and Slide Rock, and even to the Arizona Board of Regents for a park at the ASU West Campus.

The fund gave a total of $100 million to all 50 states this year, including $2.1 million to Arizona.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The money does not come from taxpayers, but from fees paid by energy companies that extract oil and natural gas along the Gulf Coast, according to Larsen, a professor of practice in the School of Community and Development. He was assistant director and then director of Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Department for 27 years, retiring in 2010.

“That bipartisan legislation was an innovative way to share those funds all over the country in parks, conservation areas and wildlife areas as sort of an environment tradeoff,” he said.The fund divides the revenue into federal and state portions according to a formula that changes frequently, but for many years it was 60 percent federal and 40 percent state.

“Phoenix and other municipalities benefit from the state side,” he said. “The rest would go to federal agencies for purposes primarily of acquiring and expanding their federal property footprint, primarily in Western states. So the rub, over the years, has been from Western state legislators who think the LWCF has been used as a land grab for federal properties to be expanded, which would then preclude the opportunity for mining, for grazing or for hunting and fishing.”

The National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management use the fund to acquire more land. The conservative Heritage Foundation supports allowing the fund to expire, not only because the organization opposes expansion of federal lands but also because federal money is going to support local projects that should be funded in other ways.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, blocked reauthorization of the LWCF in 2015 because he believed too much of the money went to buy land in the West. However, this year, Bishop co-sponsored the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, with Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., to permanently restore the fund and also allocate money toward the $12 billion maintenance backlog at the National Parks Service.

Larsen said that the program has been frozen and temporarily extended a few times, but never been allowed to expire. The city of Phoenix has received more than $10 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund since it began. Larsen teaches a class at ASU called “creating community,” and he tells his students that parks not only provide recreational and environmental benefits but they also have an economic impact.

“Parks, if they’re managed properly, tend to increase the property values of the neighborhood they’re located in,” he said. But a poorly maintained park, with trash and graffiti, can lower property values. “In Phoenix, what is the most treasured commodity? Shade,” he said.“The LWCF provides shade development opportunities so people can enjoy those parks.”

Baby boomers retire here for the hiking, yet Arizona starves its parks. How smart is that?

Source:  Opinion by Linda Valdez – Arizona Republic – azcentral.com – September 17, 2018

Opinion: Arizona’s environment is an asset. Yet we are starving the state parks that provide exactly
what baby boomers say they want from us.  Arizona’s has a fast horse in the race to attract Baby Boomer retirees. But our state is starving the poor beast. Recent census figures put Arizona second only to Florida as a destination for today’s retirees, according to reporting by The Republic’s Catherine Reagor. And what is at the top of the list of what these retirees want? — Hiking. It’s the great outdoors that Baby Boomer retirees crave, and we’ve got plenty of it. But we aren’t taking care of it.

Consider:

  • The total operating budget for Arizona’s State Parks was $29 million in fiscal 2018, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. This is $15 million less than what Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute said was needed in 2009 to operate and maintain the state’s parks.
  • Since 2009, state parks have gotten no general fund money.
  • The parks don’t get to use all of the money they bring in through gate receipts and concessions. That money goes into the State Parks Revenue Fund, which reported total revenue of $20,460,700 in fiscal 2018. Only $14.4 million of it was appropriated back to the parks.
  • More than a decade ago – in 2007 – the parks had fewer visitors and more money. The fiscal 2007 parks budget was $37 million, and that included $27 million from the general fund.
  • During the recession, Arizona’s GOP-controlled Legislature stripped away $10 million a year in Heritage Fund money that had been dedicated to the parks by a 1990 citizens’  initiative. This funding, which came from the Lottery, has not been restored.
  • In 2014, then-Parks Director Bryan Martyn put a $80 million price tag on the cost of needed capital improvements in the parks – no-frills things like water lines and septic tanks.
  • Gov. Doug Ducey’s Parks Director Sue Black has faced criticism and investigations over her treatment of staff, according to reporting by The Republic’s Craig Harris. Concerns about her leadership remain but have not been resolved.

Open spaces mean economic growth

This isn’t just about the spiritual, emotional and psychological benefits nature provides to those who take the time to get out into the wide open spaces. This is about cold, hard cash. It’s about planning for an economically sustainable future. Arizona’s environment is an asset. It attracts people. That’s increasingly true as the large cohort of Baby Boomers look for retirement options that include outdoor experiences. Our State Parks include first-class natural, archaeological and historical sites. The parks need to be properly maintained to conserve the resource and give visitors a first-class experience.

It’s a National Parks problem, too

Arizona’s parks – along with Arizona’s wealth of National Parks and other federal lands – give us an edge in attracting Baby Boomer retirees who have money to spend on an outdoor lifestyle. And guess what? There’s a problem at the national level, too. The Restore Our National Parks and Public Lands Act of 2018 aims to begin spending on deferred maintenance on federal public lands. The price tag in Arizona alone is $531 million, including $330 million in needed maintenance at Grand Canyon National Park. Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva and Kyrsten Sinema are original sponsors. Other Arizona House members signed on are Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Ruben Gallego, as well as Republicans Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko. The bill is not moving.

Arizona’s missed opportunity

Meanwhile, back in Arizona, Ducey and his Republican colleagues in our Legislature like to talk about their commitment to economic development. But they lack awareness of how to market and maintain Arizona’s natural assets. They are systematically starving the horse that can help us win the national competition for retirees who want exactly what our state parks offer.

 

Arizona Game and Fish Department Seeks Public Input

Source:  Arizona Game and Fish Department Email Blast – August 16, 2018

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) is still seeking ideas for establishing and maintaining a discretionary, dedicated funding source for outreach, education and public awareness efforts.  To view ideas received to date, or to submit ideas throughout the 30-day public input period that ends September 8, visit  www.azgfd.com.  Ideas also can be emailed to ideas@azgfd.gov.Draft funding alternatives, based on this public input, vetting and benchmarking, will be presented to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission during its public meeting Sept. 21 at the Navajo County Heber Complex, 2188 W. Country Club Drive, in Overgaard.

There will be an additional opportunity for the public to provide input on select alternatives, based Commission direction. AZGFD will host a public forum and webcast at 6 p.m. on October 10 at department headquarters (Quail Room), 5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix. The public will be able to ask questions or provide comments in person during the forum in the Quail Room, or by email from their smartphone or other device.

The webcast also can be viewed at any AZGFD regional office, where the public also can submit their questions or comments via email. The forum will kick off another 30-day comment period that ends Nov. 8. AZGFD then will present potential funding option(s) to the Commission at its public meeting Dec. 7 in Phoenix.

Protect the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund

Special to the Arizona Daily Star by Liz Petterson – August 2, 2018

“Few of us can hope to leave a poem or a work of art to posterity; but working together or apart, we can yet save meadows, marshes, strips of seashore, and stream valleys as a green legacy for the centuries.” — Stewart Udall

Tucson-based Arizona Land and Water Trust partnered with the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014 to add 356 protected acres to Ironwood Forest National Monument northwest of Tucson.  Home to Ironwood trees reaching over 800 years in age, the property provides steep, rocky slope habitat for desert bighorn sheep, the last endemic population in the Tucson basin. The funds for the property’s protection came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Created by Congress in 1965, and spearheaded by then Interior Secretary and former Arizona congressman Stewart Udall, Land and Water Conservation Fund was a bipartisan commitment to safeguard natural areas, water resources and our cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities — not with taxpayer dollars, but with a small portion of federal offshore drilling fees.

Now, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire on Sept. 30. It is critical that the Land and Water Conservation Fund be permanently reauthorized with full, dedicated funding. The fund is authorized to receive up to $900 million annually but over the years, more than $20 billion have been diverted elsewhere. Even so, the fund has protected land in every state over its 53-year history and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects.

Arizona has received approximately $235 million in fund dollars, protecting places such as the Grand Canyon and Saguaro National Parks, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Tumacácori National Historical Park and San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.

In Pima County alone, the fund has contributed to more than 150 projects, including the City of Tucson’s Reid, Kennedy, Udall, Fort Lowell and Lakeside parks; a dozen school and local park playgrounds, courts, sports fields and swimming pools; Dennis Weaver Park in Oro Valley; Tucson Mountain and Arthur Pack regional parks and The Loop in Pima County; and Catalina State Park.

Arizona’s natural beauty and its recreational opportunities fuel the state’s economy. According to the Arizona Department of Tourism, 43 million people visited Arizona in 2016 and spent $21.2 billion in the state, supporting 201,000 jobs and generating $5.7 billion in wages and salaries and $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Legislation proposed in Congress to permanently reauthorize and fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including one introduced by Rep. Raúl Grijalva, continues to have bipartisan support. A March 16 letter to leaders of the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies supporting the fund was signed by Reps. Grijalva, Kyrsten Sinema, Ruben Gallego, Tom O’Halleran and Martha McSally.

Arizona Land and Water Trust has worked with willing landowners and government agencies — BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Arizona Game and Fish, Fort Huachuca and Pima County among others — for 40 years to protect 50,000 acres of wildlife habitat and working ranches and farms in Southern Arizona for future generations.

We were honored to receive the assistance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2014. It makes sense to use a small portion of the fees from the withdrawal of our country’s natural resources to preserve its beautiful and environmentally critical places.

Please contact your representatives and senators. Don’t let the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire.