In the summer of 1998, Arizona Republican Gov. Jane Hull pulled together 15 conservationists, business leaders and state legislators and formed the Growing Smarter Commission. Their task would be to ward off what Hull saw as the Sierra Club's attempts to put radical growth control measures on the ballot.
In search of common ground, the
commission turned to preserving as open space a portion of the
state's 9.3 million acres of trust lands. The federal government
deeded these lands to Arizona in 1912, the year it became a state,
to be sold or leased for the benefit mainly of public schools. At
present, the only way to preserve them is to buy them
After nearly 18 months of debate, the
commission recommended establishing a first-of-its-kind
conservation trust that would set aside trust lands for their
ecological value. It also suggested selling trust land with deed
restrictions that would limit what a buyer could do on the land.
The plan would require changing the state's constitution, so it
would require a public vote. And as an extra incentive for voters,
the plan would immediately protect about 70,000 acres if
Gov. Hull signed the Growing Smarter bill
on Feb. 21 with great fanfare, saying the plan "makes Arizona a
national leader in land use and growth management."
But Hull and the Legislature changed some
commission recommendations to make the package palatable to rural
lawmakers. First, they capped the amount of land that could be set
aside in conservation reserves at 3 percent - 270,000 to 300,000
acres. Reserves would have to be recommended by the local county or
city council and be approved by the state land commissioner and an
independent citizens' commission. The Legislature would then have
to approve the reserve by a two-thirds
Those changes infuriated
"It's extremely frustrating to
have brought the ideas this far and then have a 3 percent
solution," says Carla, executive director of the McDowell Sonoran
Land Conservancy, who is legally known by a single name (HCN,
2/28/00: 'We need a whole paradigm shift').
make matters worse, the 70,000 acres initially picked for
preservation are undevelopable anyway, says Luther Propst, with the
Tucson-based Sonoran Institute. Most of the land nominated consists
of steep slopes and mountaintops, he says, and adding any more land
to the conservation reserve will be "almost impossible."
Both Propst and Carla say their groups will
likely push for a ballot initiative in 2002 that will counteract
the Growing Smarter Plus plan if it is approved in
On a related note, Interior Secretary
Bruce Babbitt has approached Gov. Hull about trading sensitive
trust lands for federal lands elsewhere in the state. The feds
could then protect that land, while the state could make money for
the schools - similar to the deal Babbitt cut with Utah Gov. Mike
Leavitt in 1998 (HCN, 5/25/98: Monumental deal over Utah's trust
lands). Hull, apparently still bitter about Babbitt's backing of
the new Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument on the Arizona
Strip, has refused to consider such a trade.