Arizona Opinion: Keep Public Lands in Public Hands

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Jason Ceola

Misguided members of the Arizona legislature are using the affordable housing crisis to accomplish one of their long-standing goals: eliminating public land ownership. This year they passed their latest anti-public-lands efforts, House Concurrent Memorial 2002.This memorial demands the federal government transfer its “underused” public lands from the hands of all Americans and ultimately to the portfolios of private developers. While making more land available for development to ease the housing crisis might sound like a good idea, a quick review of an Arizona map of federally owned land proves that this plan will have no such impact.One must assume that “underused” public land is underused for a reason. Likely, it is remote and inaccessible. Those are not qualities someone typically looks for when choosing a home location, especially with high gas prices. For example, the closest federal public land to Phoenix is the Tonto National Forest, northeast of Mesa — easily a one-hour drive without traffic. But the closest parts of the forest are also heavily used by off-roaders, anglers, hunters and anyone recreating along the Salt River. Finding “underused” land in this portion of the Tonto means driving at least another 20 minutes north on SR87. Does anyone really think that building homes 30 miles from the nearest grocery store is going to help solve the affordable housing crisis?

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The affordable housing crisis in Arizona will not be fixed by building housing developments or apartments in remote locations. Most city zoning boards and/or councils consider the available public services available to a new apartment or housing development before allowing them to be permitted. This would mean heavy infrastructure changes, such as public transportation, grocery stores, utilities and schools, would need to be in place long before (or at least concurrently) any housing would be built. Essentially, this approach would require building out cities.For a housing development to be “affordable” it would need either to be a low-income complex built through a Housing and Urban Development process or subject to strict rent control policies adopted by the state after being routed through the legislature to limit market rate trends.We all know the reason behind this has nothing to do with affordable housing.The reality is that special interests and politicians on the fringe of popular opinion are always looking for a new way to take control of our public lands and waters. If the state legislature is truly concerned with solving the housing crisis its members should tap into Arizona’s billion dollar “Rainy Day” fund. Or they could look at the 9 million acres of state trust Lands, which are frequently closer to population centers than federal public lands. But we don’t see these proposals because they aren’t actually trying to solve any real problems. Instead, it’s just another effort by out-of-touch Arizona politicians who continually ignore the overwhelming popularity and economic benefit of publicly held federal lands.I and the Arizona Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers strongly oppose this latest scheme by the legislature to eliminate the public lands that Arizonans treasure. While it’s too late to stop HCM 2002 from passing, it’s never too late to tell your state legislator about the importance of our federal public lands to all Arizonans — and especially the hunting and fishing community. Unlike the real estate industry, our community doesn’t have lobbyists schmoozing at the Capitol. Instead, we must individually reach out to our government leaders and tell them to Keep it Public!If you would like to join the Arizona Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and have your voice heard on issues like this, join us today at
Jason Ceola is dedicated to public lands and waters as the legislative director for the Arizona Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He is a lawyer and has a degree in environmental policy.

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