After two years of biological studies, the
Tucson, Ariz., area has the first draft of its pioneering plan to
protect from development hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin
desert, and 56 vulnerable species, including the endangered pygmy
owl. The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan would also allow 400,000
newcomers to build on less environmentally sensitive land (HCN,
8/30/99: Who's stopping sprawl?).
support from environmentalists, Pima County's proposed plan has
been heralded as the most ambitious open space-endangered species
protection plan of its kind. "You could almost call it a wish list
for biological resources," says Paul Fromer, a San Diego consulting
biologist who shepherded the habitat conservation plan into
Today, it exists largely as a map.
It shows bands of purple, indicating areas targeted for
preservation, wrapped around Tucson, its immediate suburbs and five
major mountain ranges. The plan's estimated cost and other details
are due in June or July. The county and federal governments are
scheduled to approve the final plan in December 2002.
Critics want the plan scaled back before it is
signed into law. Shortly after the plan's release, the Arizona
Senate passed a bill that would give state agencies and the
governor what amounts to a veto over the plan. Alan Lurie,
executive vice president of the Southern Arizona Homebuilders
Association, dismisses the plan as an expensive version of
Proposition 202, the statewide urban growth boundary initiative
that flopped at the polls last year: "It's like ordering a very
costly car that the driver can't pay for," he says.