Arizona Lawmakers Again Look At Takeover Of Federal Land

Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 4:38pm
Updated: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 5:37pm
(Photo by Peter O'Dowd - KJZZ)
Grand Canyon National Park.

The debate over wresting control of land away from the federal government is nothing new in Arizona, but state lawmakers are taking a renewed look at the idea.

A legislative committee held a meeting on the subject Tuesday. Earlier this year, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed two bills aimed at essentially assuming control of federal land, which make up about 42 percent of all the state's land. Despite his decision on those bills, the governor did approve the creation of a committee to study the matter further.

Jim Chmelik is a county commissioner in Idaho and one of those drumming up support for state control of federal land across the West. He spoke to legislators in Arizona about his proposal.

The first step, he said, is to let the state assume control of managing federal land.

“I would like to see us transfer the land back to the state, but, you know what, I understand one step at a time," Chmelik said. "Let’s show the people who have the fears, that we don’t want to sell these lands off.”

Chmelik argues the land could eventually be a major source of revenue. But conservationists in Arizona, such as Mike Quigley with The Wilderness Society, are skeptical.

“What would be the management changes and the use of the land changes that would accompany this additional revenue? Or make better use of it?” questioned Quigley.

He said federal land in Arizona already generates upward of $10 billion at no cost to the state general fund, and he believes privatizing land would be the only real way to pull in more money, which is why Quigley is against the concept.

In 2012, Arizona voters shot down Proposition 120, which would have declared state sovereignty over natural resources in Arizona, by a 2-to-1 margin.

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