Leader of Utah sovereignty effort makes case in Arizona
PHOENIX – The Utah lawmaker who authored a law calling for the federal government to relinquish authority over public lands said Thursday that devastating wildfires are one reason for Arizona to follow suit.
“Federal policy prevents harvesting any trees,” Republican Rep. Ken Ivory said during a presentation to a State Capitol audience that included GOP lawmakers. “This is causing raging wildfires, polluting the air, killing millions of animals and devastating watershed for decades.”
Utah’s law, enacted in 2012, demands that Washington cede control of 20 million acres in that state. While legal scholars and others said the law is likely unconstitutional, supporters said it would open lands to uses such as mining and grazing that generate revenue for the state.
Ivory formed the American Lands Council to press his case that each state should have sovereignty over its land and decide how to manage and profit from it. Noting that the federal government owns more than half of the land west of Colorado, he said the shift would make states rely less on the federal government for their budgets.
“We are dependent on a federal government that’s fiscally suicidal,” Ivory said.
He said the federal government has done a poor job of managing the land it controls, including preventing logging and allowing forests to become overgrown and prone to devastating wildfires. State control, he said, would allow Arizona to control logging and keep forests healthier.
Ivory suggested that a time may come when countries such as China that hold U.S. debt will confiscate public lands.
“China has demanded that South American countries hand over their land as a form of payment,” he said.
In recent years, some GOP lawmakers in Arizona have pressed state sovereignty in different ways. Last year voters rejected a ballot measure authored by Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, that would have declared state sovereignty over natural resources within Arizona’s boundaries. Earlier this year the Republican-controlled Legislature referred to the ballot a measure to declare that Arizona can reject federal actions it deems unconstitutional and refrain from dedicating resources to enforcing them.
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said he supports the American Lands Council’s efforts.
“We need to get mining companies and cattle organizations behind this,” he said.
Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said in a telephone interview that Arizonans as a whole reject the notion of sovereignty.
“The public likes public land,” she said. “It’s a big part of why people love Arizona – our parks, monuments, recreation opportunities, wildlife habitats, clean air and clean water.”
Bahr said the logging plans promoted by the American Lands Council are unsustainable and would rob the state of what old-growth trees remain. She said removing the older, larger trees through logging and leaving smaller ones actually would lead to more devastating fires.
“If the Lands Council wants to look at the biggest threat to Arizona’s forests, they should look in the mirror,” she said.