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.”

Proposition 301 divert conservation money

[Source: Mary Jo Pitzl, Arizona Republic]

Editor’s note: This story is the ninth in a series explaining the 10 propositions that will appear on the Nov. 2 general-election ballot.

PROPOSITION 301: Land Conservation Fund

This ballot measure seeks voter approval to take the remaining balance in the state Land Conservation Fund and redirect it to the state general fund.


Voters in 1998 approved the Growing Smarter Act, which requires the state to allocate $20 million a year from the general fund into a land-conservation fund to shore up state preservation efforts.

The money is available for 11 years; the final year ends June 30, 2011. There is $122.9 million in the fund, although grant applications from Phoenix, Scottsdale and Coconino County, if awarded, would leave the fund with about $50 million.

The Legislature sent Prop. 301 to the ballot as it looks for money to help balance the state budget, which has been running a deficit. The deficit for the current year is $825 million.

Voter approval is needed to transfer this money because the Land Conservation Fund is protected from legislative interference.


GOP lawmakers and the Arizona Tax Research Association.


Proponents argue that the money is needed to help balance the state budget, and that need is greater than land conservation. Without the transfer, the Legislature will have to find $123 million elsewhere, such as through cuts, one-time budget gimmicks or possibly tax hikes.


The Arizona Education Association, Sierra Club, Sonoran Institute, McDowell Sonoran Conservancy and Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection.


Opponents paint Prop. 301 as a raid by the Legislature that ignores the voters’ will to devote money to land conservation. They argue that there are long-term benefits to preserving open space, ranging from increased quality of life to enhancing the value of state trust land.

  • State of Arizona publicity pamphlet for the Nov. 2 election
  • Arizona State Land Department
  • Arizona State Parks Department, grant applications,
  • Arizona Legislature,
  • Joint Legislative Budget Committee
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Prop 301 pits reeling state budget against preserving open space

[Source: Arizona Capitol Times.  Article by Rebecca McClay, Cronkite News Service]

Sandy Bahr (Cronkite News Service Photo by Rebecca L. McClay)

Sandy Bahr envisions this expanse of land near the McDowell Mountains remaining just as it is: a picturesque scene of large saguaros and desert brush.

Thanks to $23 million from a fund Arizona voters created in 1998 to preserve open spaces, Scottsdale plans to add about 2,000 acres of state trust land here to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. To Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, it’s money well spent.

But it could be one of the last such purchases receiving money from the Growing Smarter fund if voters approve a ballot measure in November.

The Legislature referred Proposition 301, also called the Land Conservation Fund Transfer, to have voters decide whether $123.5 million in state funds will be kept for preservation projects or siphoned into the general fund to balance the budget.

Bahr is among those opposing the measure, saying money for buying state trust land should stay intact.

“By redirecting these dollars, they hurt the local communities that were trying to conserve the land and they hurt conservation all over the state,” Bahr said. “They should keep their hands off it.”

It’s one of two proposals on the Nov. 2 ballot in which voters will have a direct say in how to balance the state’s fiscal 2011 budget, which took effect July 1.

The budget passed based on the assumption that voters would approve both Proposition 301 and Proposition 302, which would eliminate the First Things First early childhood health and development program. State law requires voter approval because voters created both programs.

Bahr said other measures like closing tax loopholes or scaling back spending in other departments are her preferred alternatives to balancing the budget.

Proponents of eliminating the Land Conservation Fund say the consequences of not balancing the budget – including the state receiving a downgrade on its debt rating from Moody’s Investors Service – are too severe to ignore. The downgrade from a Aa2 to Aa3 in July makes it more expensive for the government to borrow money.

“We can’t afford it,” said Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, who called the founding of the fund “well intended.”
“We need the money many other places,” he said. “Buying open space is not high on the list of priorities.”

Rep. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, said Arizona faces an unprecedented budget crisis.

“It is irresponsible to cut true necessities like public safety or basic K-12 education while continuing to spend money on non-essentials, no matter how good or important they might be,” Murphy said in an e-mail interview.

The Land Conservation Fund is administered by the Arizona State Parks Board. The money is allocated to communities on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis to purchase state trust land.

Proposition 301 opponents argue that the money, the only state funding source for land preservation, is critical for preserving the environment in the face of growth. They argue that unlike Proposition 302, Proposition 301 doesn’t have a provision that would require money taken from the fund to be used for a similar purpose.

Scottsdale has already received $3.3 million from the fund to help purchase a 400-acre parcel of land in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, said Scottsdale Preserve Director Kroy Ekblaw, who didn’t take a position on the proposition.

“We have additional land we would like to acquire,” Ekblaw said. “If the revenue was available, we would certainly like to take advantage.”

Scottsdale could still purchase more land but not as much as if it had the matching funds, Ekblaw said.

Phoenix and Coconino County have also already applied to purchase state trust land parcels. According to a report from Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the applications could come to a halt if the measure passes.

Facts about Proposition 301 vote:

  • Key Provision: Would transfer to the general fund $123.5 million from Land Conservation Fund voters created in 1998 to preserve open spaces.
  • Trend: Along with Proposition 302, dealing with the First Things First early childhood development program, it would reallocate funds to shore up the state budget.
  • The Fund: Matches municipalities’ land conservation efforts dollar-for-dollar to purchase state trust land.
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Arizona House panel backs funding special fund for state parks

Florence's McFarland State Historic Park, including 1878 courthouse, now closed.

[Source: Associated Press] — Republican legislators on Tuesday moved to keep state parks open by taking money from a special fund for land conservation, rejecting criticism that the proposed diversion could violate a constitutional protection for voter-approved laws.  The House Government Committee voted 6-3 to postpone for one year a $20 million annual payment to the Land Conservation Fund and use the money to undo parks-related spending cuts and fund transfers included in a recent midyear budget-balancing package.

Parks officials have said the budget cuts could force closures of eight parks, and backers of the new proposal called it a creative way to keep some or all open.  Parks tabbed for possible closure: Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde, Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, Lyman Lake State Park in Springerville, Oracle State Park in Oracle, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park in Tubac, and Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park.   One of the eight, McFarland State Historic Park in Florence, was closed Friday because of deteriorating facilities.

The Land Conservation Fund was created under so-called “Growing Smarter” legislation that was approved by voters after being referred to the 1998 ballot by the Legislature.  Under the Arizona Constitution, changes to voter-approved laws can only be made with 3/4 votes by each legislative chamber and if the change furthers the intent of the original law.

Rep. Warde Nichols, a Chandler Republican who proposed the diversion, called it a “creative way” to keeping parks open while comporting with the 1998 law’s intent by promoting conservation and recreation activities.  Besides, with housing construction in a slump, “urban sprawl in our state is not currently a problem,” he said.

Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, said the conservation fund was for land acquisition, not other purposes.  “It could be considered a twist of logic,” he said.  Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said the 1998 law “was sold to voters” as providing money for land conservation.  “You’re really out on a limb here,” she said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.  To read related Arizona Republic article, click here.]