What's better for Arizona

  Dear HCN,

For the past year I've been part of a group including ranchers, environmentalists and scientists exploring ways to find common ground over public-lands policy in Arizona and the West. Early on we found our mantra by paraphrasing James Carville: It's land fragmentation, stupid! But no matter how much progress we make, we keep running into the same wall: lawsuits over the Endangered Species Act brought by the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity or Forest Guardians against the Forest Service. As Ed Marston pointed out in his essay, "Show me the science" (HCN, 3/16/98), the Forest Service is paralyzed by these lawsuits, but ranchers pay the price: reduced allotments, endless meetings, escalating legal expenses. Two ranching families in our group are seriously considering selling their ranches, and the only way they can recoup their investment is to subdivide and develop their private land.

If paralysis by lawsuit is allowed to continue, one unintended result of the Endangered Species Act in Arizona will be strip malls and subdivisions in every grassland valley across the state. Land fragmentation will make ecosystem management of the grasslands, whether it be the protection of wildlife habitat or the reintroduction of fire, harder if not impossible to accomplish. As Marston notes, "rural economies and rural landscapes' will be replaced by "service economies and suburbia." Is that what we really want for the West?

Tom Sheridan

Diamond Bell, Arizona

High Country News Classifieds