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Know the West

Land swap splits conservationists

  Saguaro National Park officials and Tucson environmentalists are praising a recent land exchange that adds 632 acres of prime wildlife habitat to the park's holdings. They say the expansion helps to protect the cactus forest from urban sprawl, but others are wondering if too much was sacrificed in the process.

The Tucson Mountains acreage, owned by local developer Don Diamond, was acquired by the park in early April. In exchange, Diamond gained 4,332 acres of Bureau of Land Management land northwest of Phoenix, property he plans to sell to another developer.

Critics say the Phoenix land was undervalued and maintain that the Tucson acreage should have been purchased outright with money from the $12 billion federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, now used primarily to retire the federal deficit.

"I know a lot of folks in Tucson are probably happy the exchange has been finalized, but from a larger perspective there is nothing to celebrate," says Don Steuter of the Sierra Club's Phoenix charter.

Helen Wilson, a former Tucson resident and longtime supporter of the park expansion, agrees the victory is bittersweet. "I don't blame the Phoenix people at all for opposing it," she says. "I sympathize with them, and I wish we could have fought it instead, but the bottom line is that I wanted to protect that land."

"Tony Davis