Arizona State Parks Can be fixed – if Gov. Doug Ducey is willing. Will he Accept?

Source:  Linda Valdez, Arizona Republic – December 2, 2018

Opinion: Not all the problems at Arizona State Parks happened on Ducey’s watch. But the remedy is up to him.

Here’s one constituent letter

Ducey can turn it into a love letter to all of Arizona and a down payment on his legacy.

The constituent letter comes from the Arizona Heritage Alliance, an impressive group of people who know and care about our state’s remarkable cultural, historical and natural treasures.

The letter asks Ducey to restore $10 million a year in Heritage Fund money for Arizona State Parks & Trails. The funds were taken away in 2010.

Parks lack money for maintenance 

Heaven knows, the Parks need money.

  • They no longer get any money from the state’s general fund, and the price of deferred maintenance has been rising for years.

And heaven knows Arizonans wanted the Parks to have the money.

  • The dedicated funding was overwhelmingly approved by voters in a 1990 citizens’ initiative, which tapped the Lottery – not the general fund – for the money.

The letter reiterates how this money was used under the plan spelled out in the citizens’ initiative:

  • For recreation and open space development, restoration or renovation.
  • For outdoor and environmental education initiatives and non-motorized trails.
  • For operation, maintenance or repair of parks and natural areas.
  • For historic preservation and archaeological projects.

The last one is of particular interest.

Former director fired after complaints

In mid-November, Ducey fired former Parks Director Sue Black and her former deputy Jim Keegan.

It came after years of complaints about Black’s management.

It also came as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich continues investigating whether laws protecting Native American and other archaeological sites were ignored on Black’s watch to facilitate development at the Parks and raise revenue.

These alleged breaches happened after the citizens’ oversight power of the State Parks Board was gutted.

Ducey asked to heal the agency

The letter asks Ducey to “heal the agency, its staff, the State Parks Board, and concerned citizens who care about our natural, cultural, and historic resources.”

He can make this a priority in his second term under the banner of fixing somebody else’s mistake.

After all, the evisceration of the Parks Board in 2012 and the loss of the Parks’ Heritage funding in 2010 both happened before Ducey took office.

What’s more, reversing those changes is a matter of simple fairness.

  • The Arizona Game and Fish Commission, a citizens’ group that sets policy for the Game and Fish Department, retained the power that was stripped from the Parks Board.
  • Game and Fish, which manages Arizona wildlife for hunting, fishing and conservation, also retained its $10 million a year share of Heritage funding, which was included in the original voter-approved initiative.

Why do some outdoor groups get preference?

The so-called “rod and gun” constituency that relies on Game and Fish for their sport has a strong voice in the Legislature – and that’s why that agency retained both citizens’ oversight and Heritage funding. But State Parks have a statewide constituency that, while not as organized, should not be ignored. Hiking, boating, fishing, birding and exploring Native American culture. You can do that and more at these Arizona State Parks. Parks serve an essential role in an increasingly urban Arizona, providing outdoor recreation for everyone and bringing tourism to rural areas.

The State Parks are a vast treasure house of Arizona’s past and present, ranging from the Yuma Territorial Prison to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to Lake Havasu to Kartchner Caverns to the ancient ruins at Homolovi. Properly protecting and managing this heritage demands a dedicated funding source and good citizen oversight.

How Ducey can make this right

Sure. Sue Black was Ducey’s appointment. That was his mistake.

But two detrimental changes at Parks pre-date Ducey:

  • Unlike previous directors, Black did not answer to a strong and active Parks Board; she clearly needed that kind of citizen scrutiny.
  • What’s more, the rush for development to raise revenue might not have happened if the Parks had retained the Heritage money that Arizona voters wanted them to have.

Ducey can begin fixing those problems and answer the letter from his constituents as he crafts his State of the State speech. He can do it with a pledge to restore the Parks’ share of Heritage Fund money and reinvigorate the Parks Board.

Then he can shepherd those changes through a Legislature that will be more diverse next session and more in need of visionary leadership.

Reach Valdez at linda.valdez@arizonarepublic.com.

Letter of Support on Behalf of The Nature Conservancy

Source:  Arizona Heritage Alliance Board of Directors’ Letter of Support Sent to Arizona Game and Fish Department for the Verde River-West Clear Creek Conservation Area – November 23, 2017

Ty Gray, Director
Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway
Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000

Dear Director Gray:

On behalf of the Arizona Heritage Alliance Board of Directors, I am writing to voice our strong support for the Verde River – West Clear Creek Conservation Area as proposed by The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. As you know, the mission of the Alliance is to preserve and enhance Arizona’s historic, cultural, and natural heritage. The proposed partnership between your agency and the Nature Conservancy offers a unique opportunity for protecting and enhancing a significant swath of water resources, streamside forests, and wildlife habitat in the Lower Verde Valley.

We believe It is important to protect both Park Central Farm and Shield Ranch with conservation easements in order to preserve connectivity of habitat along the Verde River corridor for three miles and the confluence of the river with West Clear Creek. Protecting only one property will not achieve unified protection along both sides of the river and the West Clear Creek confluence.

Conservation easement acquisitions are an effective tool because they provide direct habitat protection and protect recreational opportunities while significantly reducing O&M costs. We also believe the use of Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Funds to facilitate this initiative is just the type of project the citizens of Arizona envisioned when voting to approve the Arizona Heritage Fund 27 years ago.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter and for your public service.

Sincerely yours,
Elizabeth T. Woodin
President

Open letter to Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee

Dear Chairman Kavanagh and members of the JLBC:

The Arizona Heritage Alliance’s mission is to protect and educate about the Heritage Fund, its purposes, potential, and accomplishments, and to ensure that the Fund’s money is spent as it was established by initiative statute concieved for and by the people in 1990.

With that mission in mind, we respectfully request that you review favorably the Arizona State Parks Board’s budget transfer request which includes the return of Heritage Fund grant money to its rightful grantees from the 2009 grant cycle.  That grant money already awarded and in process of going on the ground was “frozen” by the Board in February 2009 following deep cuts made by the Legislature to the Arizona State Parks Budget.  The Legislature then permitted the Parks Board to use “other funds” (including Heritage Funds) to make up for the sweeps.  Heritage Fund grant awards were therefore “frozen” in February 2009 by the Parks Board.  This action caused great hardship to the grantees, their projects which included many historic monuments, and to their communities.  At the August Parks Board meeting, its members voted to “unfreeze” that grant money pending a positive review of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The Arizona Heritage Alliance is hereby adding its voice to that of the Arizona State Parks Board in requesting that you permit them now to restore that funding so that they can release it to the awarded grantees at long last.

We appreciate this opportunity to share our concerns with you with the hope that the Arizona State Parks Board will be able to honor its commitments to those many grantees.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth T. Woodin
President
Arizona Heritage Alliance

Sign up for Arizona Heritage Alliance “Alerts!”

If you hike, boat, ride, hunt, fish, watch wildlife, visit a park, or tour historic sites, then Arizona’s Heritage Fund affects your life!  The Arizona Heritage Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created in 1992 to protect Arizona’s Heritage Fund and its objectives.  It is guided by a Board of Directors drawn from a broad base of outdoor sports, environmental conservation, and historic preservation organizations that helped pass the 1990 statewide voter initiative creating the Heritage Fund.

Numerous state legislative attempts have been made to redirect the flow of Heritage Funds.   Our supporters, through hundreds of phone calls, e-mails, letters, and one-on-one meetings, have successfully maintained the integrity of the Heritage Fund.   Unfortunately, the Arizona Legislature succeeded in “sweeping” all Heritage Fund monies for the current state budget shortfall.

Help us correct the situation by signing up to receive special “Alerts!” and visiting the What You Can Do section to learn of more ways to support the cause.  At any time, contact us if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or ideas.

Thank you,
Beth Woodin
President, Arizona Heritage Alliance