Sandhill cranes benefit from Heritage Fund

Arizona’s winter sandhill crane population has boomed from about 4,000 in the late 1970s to more than 34,000 today, in large part because of the state’s Heritage Fund.

Money from the Heritage Fund has secured ideal habitat for the birds in southeastern Arizona. Voters created the fund in 1990 and authorized Game and Fish to use Arizona Lottery dollars to support wildlife conservation. The fund gets as much as $10 million annually. Game and Fish doesn’t get any state general fund money.

“One reason for the increasing number of cranes in the Sulfur Springs Valley is the availability of prime wetland habitat that the birds require and that the Game and Fish Department has provided,” said Mike Rabe, a migratory bird biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Cranes that used to fly south to Mexico now stop in Arizona because of those habitats.”

The impressive increase in sandhill cranes is good news for wildlife enthusiasts. Seeing hundreds or even thousands of cranes take to the skies, feed in the fields or come in to land is a thrilling sight. Adult sandhill cranes can have wingspans of 6-7 feet and stand five feet tall.

The Heritage Fund’s direct impact on wildlife conservation is compounded by the economic benefit that wildlife viewing has on communities across the state, especially in rural areas.

The city of Willcox estimates that $60,000 to $80,000 comes into the local economy from hotel, gas, restaurant, and other related purchases just during Wings over Willcox, an annual four-day bird viewing event. Two state wildlife areas – the Willcox Playa Wildlife Area near Willcox and the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area near Douglas – offer visitors good viewing facilities, including bathrooms.

The Wings Over Willcox website at features maps of viewing sites and all kinds of information about sandhill cranes. The cranes migrate to southeastern Arizona in September and stay as late as March, with most of the birds present between November and February, according to the Wings Over Willcox site.

Sandhill crane viewing tips:

• The best viewing time is at first and last light when the cranes head out to feed, although it is possible to see them throughout the day during winter.

• Listen for the birds: They are very vocal and can often be heard before they are seen.

• Don’t forget your binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras and bird field guides.

For more information on wildlife viewing opportunities in the state, visit

For more information on the Heritage Fund and other state wildlife conservation programs, go online to

Political Committee Formed to Secure Passage of the Arizona Heritage Fund Ballot Referendum via HCR 2047 currently working its way through the Arizona House of Representatives

PHOENIX, Arizona (February 23, 2012) – Today, Arizona community leaders announced the formation of a political committee, Restore the Voters’ Heritage Fund, that will seek voter approval of a ballot referendum designed to support the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund in acquiring and preserving recreational and historical assets across the state. The measure, which would go before the voters in the coming November election, is currently being considered by the Arizona Legislature.

HCR2047, sponsored by Representative Russ Jones (R-Yuma) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 17 members of the House, would place a referendum on the November ballot seeking voter approval for the Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund.

“Pristine areas that represent the varied vistas, flora, and fauna found throughout Arizona, along with many important fragile sites, represent the heart and soul of our state,” Jones said. “It’s particularly important now, as Arizona celebrates its Centennial, that we rededicate ourselves to the preservation of our historical roots and spectacular vistas.”

The Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund was initially established in 1990 following the passage of a citizen-approved ballot initiative. As a result of the recent recession, however, the Legislature chose to redirect the dollars and remove that Fund from statute in order to close budget gaps.

The bill has already passed its first hurdle, gaining the unanimous 9-0 vote of the House Agriculture and Water Committee.

“In celebration of Arizona’s centennial there is nothing we could do that is more significant than to restore the one major tool our state has for preserving our special places,” said Phoenix lawyer Grady Gammage, Jr., Chairman of the committee that will seek voter support for the referendum this fall.

Richard H. Dozer, Chairman of GenSpring Family Office – Phoenix and former President of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is serving as Treasurer of the Committee. Looking back, he reflects, “The Heritage Fund has supported parks, trails, open space, jobs, and a better economy for Arizona in the past. We need it fully restored so that it continues that important work of preserving our rich history, beautiful landscapes, and our childrens’ strong minds and bodies. That is why I have agreed to support this campaign.”

One supporter of the restoration effort is Vicki Kilvinger, mayor of Florence, AZ. “From 1991 to 2006, Florence received a total of 18 grants totaling $1.5 million dollars, which was matched by the same amount for a total of over $3 million dollars,” said Kilvinger. “Our community and others across the state have been able to rehabilitate historic buildings utilizing the Fund. Passage of the referendum would re-establish a program that would create jobs in this difficult economy and also save historic properties, build parks, and contribute to a higher quality of life for our residents.”

According to Beth Woodin, President of the Heritage Alliance, a coalition is forming to support the referendum campaign. “The Heritage Alliance consists of organizations, companies and individuals in recreational, open space, historic preservation and conservation communities, as well as county and municipal governments,” Woodin said. “We already have thousands of activists across the state ready to hit the ground running, and we expect many other organizations also to join the cause.”

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New Statewide Coalition Rallies For Parks and Open Space

[Source: Christie Silverstein, Arizona Forward, 2/21/2012] – A statewide coalition of business and environmental organizations rallied today at the State Capitol in support of legislation to bolster the financial condition of Arizona State Parks. The lead organizations were Arizona Forward, a statewide business association, and the Arizona State Parks Foundation, backed by 300 other business, environmental and community organizations. Arizona Forward was launched on Aug. 31 with the release of  “Why Parks and Open Space Matter – the Economics of Arizona’s Natural Assets,” a comprehensive examination of the status of Arizona efforts to preserve the outdoor environment. After releasing the primer, Arizona Forward was contacted by parks stakeholders around the state to help form an advocacy coalition.

The immediate purpose of the capitol rally is to show support for HB 2362, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Karen Fann, R‐Prescott, with 22 other sponsors in the House and Senate. The bill would protect the income earned by state parks through entrance fees and other user charges from legislative budget sweeps. Brian Martyn, a Pinal County supervisor and Parks Foundation board member, said the Fann bill is vitally important to state parks in trying to meet business goals. “Like any business, state parks need incentives to meet its objectives, including the assurance that using best business practices will contribute to the financial success of the parks system,” said Martyn.

“That assurance is missing if the Legislature can sweep the income that parks earn.”

Other messages advanced by the coalition, Martyn said, include “the recognition that the Fann bill doesn’t solve the long‐term funding gap faced by state parks and we are working to convince legislators that state parks operations cannot stand any additional sweeps from its remaining revenue sources.”

Martyn noted that state parks are in precarious financial condition, causing a number of

parks to operate on reduced hours and others staying open only through temporary

contributions from local governments and friends groups. Kurt Wadlington, Tucson building group leader for Sundt Construction and chairman of Arizona Forward, said the parks report was validation of the business case for environmental prioritization. “We learned from statewide polling that nearly every Arizonan (93 percent) believes that parks and open space are essential to Arizona tourism, a $17 billion industry.”

“Other studies we reviewed showed that outdoor recreation attracts more than 5.5 million Arizonans, generating approximately $350 million in annual state taxes and nearly $5 billion in retail services while supporting 82,000 jobs,” he said. “Clearly, it is in every Arizonan’s interest to maintain a robust system of parks, open space and wildlife habitat and Arizona Forward is exploring long‐term solutions to funding that system,” added Wadlington.

Arizona lawmakers, businesses, residents to rally for state parks

[Source: Jimena Martinez,, 2/21/2012] – Arizona lawmakers, businesses, and residents will get the opportunity to rally for the 30 state parks and Natural Areas in the state.The Arizona State Parks Foundation is hosting Arizona State Parks Advocacy Day 2012 at the state capitol lawn Tuesday.

A newly-formed statewide coalition of business and environmental organizations will also rally forHB2362, which is a bipartisan bill that would protect state park revenues from legislative budget sweeps. The bill was introduced by Representative Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

The group has acknowledged that the legislation doesn’t provide a permanent solution for the financial problems facing state parks, but says it’s committed to identifying and securing a dedicated funding source for state parks. Just this month, it was announced that no state parks will be closing for the first time in two years as a result of state budget cuts.