The nature of compromise in Arizona

Thoughts from Desmond Johns, the Wild Forever Future Fellow working in Arizona.

In July, on a Tuesday, I rolled out of bed at 4 a.m. I reminded myself why I love wilderness while I got ready for the day.  I picked up my colleague at the casino south of Phoenix (it’s a good meeting spot!) and drove south to Tucson to catch the next leg of our carpool.  From there we headed even further South — past the border patrol checkpoint on US 90 and the charred landscape left after the Monument Fire to Bisbee Arizona, the Cochise County seat.  We were just in time for the 10 a.m. Board of Supervisors meeting.

That day Cochise County was considering a County Comprehensive Plan demanding to take part in decisions regarding management and legislative actions that would apply to federal public lands within the county.  This idea alone makes so much sense that part of me is amazed that the County has to make a policy to achieve a seat at the decision-maker’s table.  Sure, local governments should have a say in policies that will directly affect the lands surrounding where they live and work.  Duh.

The rub was that immediately following the demand of “coordination” the county took a clear anti-conservation stance on all issues.  The plan favors livestock grazing over wildlife, and states that off-road vehicles use should be unrestricted on public lands.  It declared that “Wilderness designation is not an appropriate, effective, efficient, economic or wise use of land.”  Ouch.

During the meeting, several locals and a few of my new conservation colleagues stood up and spoke against the county’s proposed stance on wilderness and other land designations.  While all supported the idea of the county having a seat at the table, no one spoke in support of the county’s attack on wilderness and other land designations.  Many questioned whether this plan had been appropriately circulated for public input as many local conservationists had only heard about the plan a few days before the Board of Supervisors was to vote.

What happened when no one from the public supported the County’s plan?  The major concession of a day was a general softening of the harshest language.  The plan now reads “Wilderness designation is not always an appropriate, effective, efficient, economic or wise use of land.”  Part of me thinks that hey, the door is still open.  The cynical part of me is less impressed — this is compromise in Arizona.

Before starting the long drive northwards, I took a few minutes to scrutinize the border fence so many Arizonans are demanding is necessary to keep us safe.  As I looked out at Naco, which has been sliced in two by the border fence I couldn’t help but ponder the dichotomy of Arizona’s relationship with the federal government.  We can’t get enough support in securing our border, and we are willing to make significant sacrifices in terms of our privacy and daily life to feel safe.  Yet when it comes to federal public lands and resources in our area, we can’t get the federal government out of the way fast enough, nor should we compromise.   I couldn’t help but wonder if the impasses in Arizona could be eased by backing away from extreme stances and a willingness to engage in a real conversation.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.