This election, Arizona voters will decide the fate of two ballot measures designed to affect how state and federal lands are managed within the state: Propositions 119 and 120.
There are more than 9 million acres of state trust land in Arizona and many of these acres are in a “checkerboard” pattern of alternating ownership, creating very difficult land management issues.
Proposition 119 amends the Arizona Constitution to allow the exchange of state trust lands for other public lands with the intention of either protecting military facilities-thus protecting 96,000 jobs-or converting the exchanged lands to public use. This last purpose would help achieve conservation goals such as removing state lands from within national monuments.
Proposition 119 ensures accountability and transparency by requiring two independent land appraisals, an analysis of the impacts of the exchange, and two public meetings where feedback can be given. Most importantly, land exchanges must go to the ballot, giving Arizona voters final approval over every land exchange being proposed.
Proposition 120, on the other hand, fails to meet any test of reasonableness. It is an unconstitutional measure that would give Arizona sovereignty over federal public lands in Arizona, including Grand Canyon National Park. Its intent is to give the state control over national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife refuges in Arizona. It would also undermine protections provided by federal laws that guide public land management — laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
Asserting state sovereignty over federal lands makes no sense. The ownership of lands within the state by the federal government was part of the legislation allowing Arizona to become a state. Reneging on that promise would cause a cascade of unknown legal issues, having the potential to affect virtually every local government in the state.
Economically, Prop. 120 would be a disaster. The state already has a hard time funding its own state park system and managing state trust lands, let alone trying to pay for management and care of all of the federal lands within its borders.
Proposition 119 provides a positive step forward by creating a transparent exchange mechanism for state and federal lands. Proposition 120, on the other hand, is a misguided attempt by the legislature to seize millions of acres of federal land.
Please, vote “YES” on Prop 119 and “NO” on Prop 120.
Nikolai Lash is with the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Trust.