Lawmakers must agree to help

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial, 2/4/2012] – Lawmakers: Take a hike. We mean that in the nicest possible way. You see, our elected officials have been out of step with their constituents. A few hours under a big-sky horizon or a serenade by the wind through some saguaro needles might help them get in touch with those they represent.

Arizonans responded to a recent poll with resounding support for conservation and the state parks.

Yet since 2008, lawmakers have swept $81.6 million from Arizona State Parks. They’ve cut out all state support from the general fund. In addition, the $10 million a year in Lottery money that used to go to the parks, part of the voter-approved Heritage Fund, was eliminated. Completely and permanently. Even the money that the parks raise on their own through user fees was routinely raided.

One positive move is House Bill 2362, which says revenue from park user fees, concessions and other revenue generated by the parks should be used for the parks. The bill passed a House committee unanimously this week. It’s important, but it’s not enough. The years of reduced funding have seriously impacted what the State Parks Board can do.

This does not just impact walks through magnificent landscapes or tours of historic places. The state parks were set up in the late 1950s by forward-looking lawmakers as an economic engine for rural Arizona. They spur tourism to rural communities, drawing more than 2 million visitors a year. Those tourists spend in gas stations, restaurants, shops and hotels.

What’s more, Heritage Fund grants through the Arizona State Parks Board went well beyond the state system to aid cities with outdoor recreation, fund historic preservation and maintain trails throughout the state. That money is gone now. The loss will be felt statewide.

These things matter to Arizonans. They also matter to those who are measuring our state’s quality of life when looking to relocate or set up business. Arizonans get this. A recent poll showed that 87 percent of Arizonans say funding parks should be a priority — even in tough economic times. The “State of the Rockies” report released this week also found that 78 percent of Arizonans think environmental stewardship and a healthy economy are compatible. Pitting one against the other is obsolete.

State lawmakers faced tough budget decisions in recent years. But Arizonans clearly do not want cuts to the state parks to be permanent. This poll, released by the Colorado College, was conducted by two polling firms, one that primarily does work for Republicans and another that usually works for Democrats.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they considered themselves to be conservatives — more than any other single category. Support for conservation was strong across the political spectrum.

Conservation is not a right or left issue to Arizonans. It’s a center-of-the-trail issue. Lawmakers need to get in step.

Help restore the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund!

2/3/2012 – Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund. During the 2010 state budget crisis, the entire Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund was swept into the General Fund AND the language authorizing its existence was removed.

House Concurrent Resolution 2047, “Enacting and Ordering the Submission to the People of a Measure Relating to the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund,” has been introduced by Representative Russ Jones of Yuma. Review the bill’s language at:

HCR2047 has been assigned to three committees in the House: Agricultural & Water, Appropriations, and Rules. It will be first be heard in the Agriculture & Water Committee:

  • Date: Thursday, February 9
  • Time: 9 a.m.
  • Place: Hearing Room 5, House of Representatives, 1700 W. Washington St.

Individuals may testify in person by registering on the ALIS system: View the committee agenda online at:

If you cannot attend and are not registered on ALIS, you are welcome to contact the House Agriculture & Water Committee members to share your views:

It’s not too late to thank the bipartisan co-sponsors of HCR2047:

Celebrate Arizona’s Centennial Through Conservation!

More than 100 Conservation Advocates Meet with State Legislators for Environmental Day at the Capitol.

January 31, 2012, Phoenix, AZToday at the Arizona State Capitol, more than 100 people from 25 different legislative districts and representing more than 20 groups met with their state legislators in support of environmental protection and conservation programs.

Volunteer advocates asked legislators to support adequate funding for State Parks and to specifically support legislation sponsored by Representative Karen Fann (R-1) that allows parks to keep revenue generated from the parks to support the park system.

“Our state parks deserve to be open, public, and keep the money they earn at the gate from visitors, said Bret Fanshaw with Environment Arizona.  “We hope the legislature will pass Representative Fann’s bill in good faith that state parks will be protected in this year’s budget and into the future.”

Conservation of state trust lands has long been a key priority for most Arizona conservation groups. While there is no comprehensive measure on the table to do that, advocates asked legislators to support conserving state trust lands and to support the bills being promoted by Senator John Nelson (R-10) to facilitate limited and transparent land exchanges for better management of state trust lands and public lands. They asked the legislators to refrain from trying to swipe the last of the Land Conservation Fund, a voter-protected fund that supports conservation of state trust lands and for which voters again expressed support on the 2010 ballot.

“We need to preserve certain state trust lands to save their natural resources, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and historic/geologic features so that our communities now and in the future have those treasures,” said Ann Hutchinson, Executive Vice President, North Country Conservancy – Daisy Mountain Preservation Effort. “The values go way beyond the obvious beauty of the land and the opportunities to recreate. The preserved open spaces have economic value. Businesses and residents look to preserves and parks to raise and maintain a high quality of life. Homes and land surrounding parks and preserves have higher value.”

Keeping funding for the Arizona Water Protection Fund was also a key issue for many advocates. The Arizona Water Protection Fund is the only dedicated funding source to protect and restore riparian habitats in Arizona. In 2011, the Legislature voted to permanently eliminate the general fund appropriation for the program.

Also on the priority list for advocates was a measure sponsored by Representative Steve Farley (D-28) that reinstates both the Heritage Fund and the Local Transportation Assistance Fund, which helps to fund transit. Prior to the Legislature’s elimination of the State Parks Heritage Fund as part of the FY2011 budget, these dollars helped fund natural areas, historic preservation, and local and regional park programs.

“An additional measure, HCR 2047, sponsored by Representative Russ Jones, is a referral to the voters for the 2012 election and would restore the language and funding of the Parks’ side of the Heritage Fund,” said Janice Miano, Director of the Arizona Heritage Alliance. “With the success of either measure, the voters’ Heritage Fund would once again be whole and functioning, providing countless jobs, community pride, and potential for increased tourism to both city and rural areas.”

Group leaders expressed concerns about the plethora of anti-environmental legislation, much of it aimed at ignoring or weakening federal environmental laws and land protections. Among them are bills that seek to control national forests and other public lands, measures whose intent is to assert total control of air and water and thus ignore the provisions of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

“We need our state legislature and governor to step up to strengthen Arizona’s environmental protection laws, rather than seek to ignore or weaken the safety nets for clean air and clean water, as well as our endangered plants and animals,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Without the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act, there would be few, if any, protections for these important resources.”