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Game and Fish Commission votes to oppose proposal To create Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument

May 11, 2012

PHOENIX – Citing a long list of concerns, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission today (May 11) voted to oppose the proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument, which as envisioned would encompass 1.7 million acres of northern Arizona.

The Game and Fish Commission also adopted a resolution concerning the continuing and cumulative effects that special land use designations have on multiple-use lands, including effects on access, conservation efforts and wildlife-related recreation (see resolution below).

The commission pointed out that the resolution does not preempt future discussions and dialogues, but sets the appropriate stage for them.

The Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument is being proposed by the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, Center for Biological Diversity and the Wilderness Society.

The proposal encompasses 1.7 million acres of mostly public land spread across five geographical areas: the Kaibab Plateau; Kaibab-Paunsagunt Wildlife Corridor, Kaibab Creek Watershed, House Rock Valley, and the Tusayan Ranger District, south rim headquarters.

The Game and Fish Commission pointed out that the vast majority of lands in question are already public lands currently managed and conserved under multiple use concepts, primarily by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, although the proposal would also impact State Trust Lands and private holdings as well.

The issue, pointed out various commissioners, is not conserving these lands and associated wildlife habitats – that is already being done very effectively, which has led to the largest un-fragmented block of wildlife habitat in Arizona.

However, the new monument is being proposed to “preserve” and in some cases lock away these lands rather than conserve them, which could impact public access, recreation, grazing, and the ability of the commission to manage wildlife.

“It’s not as if these lands aren’t already being managed and conserved. This is really about changing the status of these lands and adding another layer of federal bureaucracy, which has far ranging implications,” said Commissioner Kurt R. Davis.

An analysis by the Arizona Game and Fish Department showed that monument designation can lead to restrictions on proactive wildlife management including:

  • Wildlife population augmentations;
  • Wildlife habitat manipulations and enhancements;
  • Wildlife water developments;
  • Hunting and fishing access.

The monument proposal would also entail voluntary retirement of grazing leasing on the lands. The department analysis points out that the loss of livestock management can cause significant loss of water availability for wildlife, besides negatively impacting the local economy.

“However, through our regional wildlife managers and our Landowner Relations Program we have many cooperative habitat improvement projects with Arizona Strip ranchers that have benefitted wildlife and relationships,” states the department analysis.

Commissioners and the department also expressed concern over the loss of ability to mechanically thin high-risk forests with unnatural densities of small-diameter trees, or the potential to do prescribed burns, thereby exposing these forest habitats to the possibility of catastrophic wild fires in the future.

There is also concern that the monument designation may prompt external pressure to seek a mandatory lead ban, which would jeopardize the success of the Game and Fish Department’s ongoing voluntary non-lead efforts to restore California condor populations.

There are additional concerns that there would become further restrictions on motorized game retrieval.

Commissioners also pointed out that they very much oppose any process that eliminates public participation, especially from those in the communities affected. The process to create yet another national monument in Arizona requires no public input or congressional oversight.

A RESOLUTION OF THE ARIZONA GAME AND FISH COMMISSION CONCERNING THE LOSS OF MULTIPLE-USE PUBLIC LANDS DUE TO SPECIAL LAND-USE DESIGNATIONS

WHEREAS, Arizona’s great strength lies in the value of its public lands, and the ability for the public to access and utilize those lands for a variety of recreational uses, and

WHEREAS, although federal lands make up 42 percent of Arizona, more than 43 percent of those lands have special land use designations which prescribe significant restrictions to recreation and management. Only 23 percent of Arizona’s lands remain open for public use and free from special land use designations, OR More than 77 percent of Arizona’s lands are restricted from public access and recreation through ownership (private, state, and tribal) or through federal special land use designations, and

WHEREAS, the conservation of wildlife resources is the trust responsibility of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission (Commission) and this extends to all lands within Arizona, to ensure abundant wildlife resources for current and future generations, and

WHEREAS, with 4.5 million acres, Arizona has the third highest total designated wilderness acreage in the U.S. This, coupled with an additional 5.8 million acres of special land use designations, which include National Monuments, National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Conservation Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Wilderness Characteristics Areas, has caused the systematic loss of recreational opportunities and erosion of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s (Department) ability to proactively manage wildlife on more than 10.3 million acres, and

WHEREAS, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has experienced restrictions resulting from special land use designations including project delays, increased costs, increased man-hours, and legal challenges. This ultimately leads to decreased efficiency in conserving and managing Arizona’s wildlife resources, and

WHEREAS, public land managers have a responsibility to the people of Arizona to ensure continued opportunities for multiple-use recreational activities. For example, FLPMA (1976) is the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) "organic act" that establishes the agency's multiple-use mandate to serve present and future generations. Once federal lands are converted to special use lands such as Wilderness and National Monuments, the FLPMA mandate no longer applies and those lands permanently lose multiple-use provisions, and;

WHEREAS, in spite of organic legislation emphasizing multiple-use of public lands, neither the USFS or BLM have established any objectives for acreages of public lands to be maintained in full multiple-use, free from restrictive designations in Arizona, and

WHEREAS, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 and the Federal Land and Policy Management Act of 1976 both legally prohibit the federal land management agencies from affecting the state’s jurisdiction and responsibilities.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Arizona Game and Fish Commission supports public land use that provides Arizona’s public and resources with a net benefit, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Arizona Game and Fish Commission does not support the continual conversion of public lands from multiple-use to land use designations that result in the net loss of wildlife resources, wildlife related recreational opportunities, and wildlife dependent economic benefit without expressed concurrence of the state of Arizona and the Commission, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any proposed special land use designation analyze the cumulative impacts of further loss of public lands that provide for multiple-use and wildlife related recreational and economic opportunities, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any proposed special land use designation on federal lands analyze the impact to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s ability to fulfill its trust responsibility to manage the state’s wildlife resources.