My Turn: GOP Must Once Again Embrace Conservation by David Jenkins, President of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship

(Source: Arizona Republic, July 16, 2016).  The Republican Party’s newly adopted 2016 platform contains narrowly approved language calling for our national endowment of federal public lands, which currently belong to all Americans, to be surrendered to states in order to benefit special interests. Given the Republican Party’s strong conservation legacy, it is worth noting just how radical that position is.

The proposed platform language is way out of line with the public-land and conservation ethic that the country has embraced since the early 1900s when Republican president Theodore Roosevelt — responding to the rampant abuse of America’s natural resources — made conservation a priority.

The 1912 Republican Party platform was very clear about the party’s approach to our nation’s natural resources, proclaiming, “We rejoice in the success of the distinctive Republican policy of the conservation of our National resources, for their use by the people without waste and without monopoly. We pledge ourselves to a continuance of such a policy.”  Even though Roosevelt was not the GOP nominee that year, the party continued to embrace his conservation principles. This has also been the case in subsequent platforms.

Even more on point, the 1924 Republican platform declared, “The natural resources of the country belong to all the people and are a part of an estate belonging to generations yet unborn.”

What conservatism really means

That is the kind of prudent, reverent, unselfish and forward-thinking perspective one would expect from a genuinely conservative political party. And we have also seen it reflected in more recent platforms.

The 1988 GOP platform quoted Roosevelt and cited the party’s “long and honored tradition of preserving our nation’s natural resources and environment.” It called safeguarding “our God-given resources” a shared responsibility and stated, “We believe public lands should not be transferred to any special group” and that “we should keep public lands open and accessible.”

As recently as 2008 the platform Scenic view from Point Imperial, Grand Canyon Nationalpledged to manage our lands in a balanced way that protects our “irreplaceable environment” and noted that the “Republican perspective” is in agreement with Theodore Roosevelt’s view that the conservation of the nation’s natural resources is our most fundamental challenge.

Contrast the respect for our natural heritage, ethic of stewardship and commitment to balance reflected in those platforms — which according to polls is consistent with the views and values of most Republicans — with the radical anti-conservation agenda being pushed now by some within the party.

Who’s peddling this agenda?

That agenda includes, as now indicated in the 2016 platform, the wholesale transfer of our national forests, wildlife refuges and conservation lands, many of which were first protected by Theodore Roosevelt, to state and private interests.

It includes efforts in Congress to eliminate or undermine the Antiquities Act, the 110-year-old Republican-passed law that Roosevelt used to protect natural and cultural treasures like the Grand Canyon and Montezuma Castle.

It even includes an assault on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a universally popular — and conservative — program that dedicates a small portion of oil- and gas-lease revenue to land conservation.

Who is peddling this agenda within the GOP? Primarily a handful of Western lawmakers, along with Koch-funded special-interest groups like Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

They are trying to reverse more than 100 years of conservative stewardship, seize land that is the birthright of every American, and act against the long-term interest of our nation, in order to facilitate their own short-term gain. There is nothing remotely conservative about it.

Be alarmed, very alarmed

That this small faction can hijack and radicalize the Republican Party platform in such a way should alarm all Republicans who love to hunt, fish, hike or otherwise enjoy America’s great outdoors — and especially those whose livelihood depends on outdoor recreation or tourism.

The party of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan recognized the value of the nation’s public lands — its parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas — to both present and future generations of Americans. It recognized that protecting them is, as President Reagan reminded us, “our great moral responsibility.”

Republicans who still share those values, and who want their political party to do the same, can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines.

Getting more vocal and more involved is the only way to prevent the anti-conservation agenda of a radical fringe from permanently supplanting the Republican Party’s long and storied conservation tradition.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national non-profit organization. Email him at djenkins@conservativestewards.org; follow on Twitter, @ConservStewards.

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.

A big idea to close Arizona parks’ budget gap

[Source: Bryan Martyn, Arizona Republic Opinion] – Arizona State Parks and programs generate more than $300 million annually for rural economies thanks to the almost 2.5 million visitors exploring Arizona’s wide-open spaces.

Unfortunately, the legislative funding to keep parks healthy and promoting Arizona’s tourism has dwindled to almost nothing. Five years ago State Parks’ operating funds were swept by $81 million and the annual $10 million from the voter-approved Heritage Fund was eliminated.

To help overcome these operating fund losses and to create funding to mitigate an $80 million backlog in park maintenance projects, the agency made it a mission to review best business practices from around the country to help identify alternative funding sources.

One of the best business concepts is to create additional revenue by enhancing the services provided by private concessionaires.

The State Parks department utilizes eight concessionaires who provide valuable amenities and services within the parks. These concessions provide everything from boat rentals to fishing tackle.

Many of these small concession contracts are expiring soon, and these facilities are in need of new capital improvements. To address this issue, the agency is exploring the possibility of attracting a single concessionaire with the business acumen and financial strength to dramatically increase the agency’s concession revenues and provide amenities to help drive those revenues.

Arizona’s state parks directly and indirectly generate millions of dollars each year to boost Arizona’s tourism economies. Parks currently generate $13 million annually through gate fees to operate all parks and statewide agency programs.

The agency has 163 full-time employees, down from more than 400 in 2007. We effectively utilize 1,000 volunteers who donate $5 million worth of salaried time to help keep the parks operating.

Bryan Martyn is director of Arizona State Parks.

Story Highlights

  • State parks struggle to find the money to stay afloat
  • Staff and volunteers have performed valiantly
  • But hiring a single concessionaire could provide the financial acumen to improve amenities

State wants to change Becker Lake fishing rules

[Source: Karen Warnick, WMIcentral.com] – Kelly Meyer of the Game and Fish Department presented information at a public hearing at the Eagar Council chambers on changing the status of Becker Lake to catch and release only. The meeting was held Sept. 21 and about 30 to 40 people attended. The proposal by Game and Fish will be sent to the Game and Fish Commission in early October for a vote.

History of Becker Lake –“Becker Lake was created in 1880 by constructing a dam at the head of an old oxbow of the Little Colorado River,” according to Game and Fish. “The lake was used principally for irrigation purposes. However, a fishery did exist there. In 1973, the Becker family sold 338 deeded acres to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission which included the lake of approximately 100 surface-acres. In that year, the Commission directed the Arizona Game and Fish Department to manage Becker Lake as a quality trout fishery. Since that time, the Department has managed the lake as a ‘Blue Ribbon’ fishery with special regulations, such as motor restrictions, bag and possession limits, restricted methods of take and seasonal closures. In January 2002, the Department purchased an additional 291 acres of adjacent private land utilizing the Department’s Heritage Fund to protect and enhance stream and riparian habitat along the Little Colorado River for wildlife species of special concern.” [to read the full article click here].