State Senator Al Melvin of Tucson talks about states’ rights legislation introduced during the recent legislative session, including his own bill that’s awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Ted Simons: Frustrated with the federal government, some state lawmakers set out this past session to push a state's rights agenda. Their success was limited, but one bill sponsored by Al Melvin, saw waiting the governor's signature. Here to talk about that bill and efforts to pass other states' rights legislation is senator Al Melvin, a Tucson Republican. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. The idea of the feds handing over title to public lands. Why?
Al Melvin: Well, there are many reasons. One of which is all of the eastern states and the midwestern states are about 98% private property. Compared to the western states, we here in Arizona at the most, we're only 18% with the federal government almost 50%. Not including Indian land and military reservations. So this is true of all the western states. So when you have public education funded by private property taxes, and we're at 18% private and all of the Midwest and eastern states at 98%, it puts us at a distinct disadvantage. But it was really appropriate that this lady would precede me this evening. From the forest service. Because not only are we concerned about having that federal land be turned into private land, but also we're concerned about the mismanagement of it, Frankly.
Ted Simons: Talk more about the mismanagement of public lands as you see it, and what exactly you're talking about. Some see mismanagement as saying you can't mine for ore near the Grand Canyon.
Al Melvin: Well, we're at our hundredth birthday as a state. And one would ask, why is this an issue now at 100 years as compared to before? Well, the first 70 years things went pretty good. Mining, cattle grazing, the lumber companies. But it's been in the last 30 years where the extreme environmental policies of the forest service, BLM, and others, have literally brought those three key Arizona industries to a halt. And what she was saying, I was talking to her before the show and I said, what are you going to do to fight these fires? We had the most horrendous fires in the history of our state last year. And basically it's burn, baby, burn. As opposed to having a lumber industry that goes in and clears the underbrush, and harvests the forest properly.
Ted Simons: Does a lumber industry add to the quality of life for those looking for nature in our forests and in our wild places?
Al Melvin: I believe that proper forest management does. It's ironic that the federal government, through these extreme environmental policies, to save the spotted owl, and other so-called endangered fauna and Flora, when you have a devastating fire like we had last year, far more of these endangered species are destroyed by these out-of-control fires than any lumber or mining industry could ever cause problems.
Ted Simons: Do you see mining for ore near the Grand Canyon providing habitat for wildlife? Keeping nature as free from human contact as possible, do you see that as radical environmental policy?
Al Melvin: Well, it's interesting. We have the Arizona geological survey, and they have done a study that the natural flow of water by rain down the Grand Canyon into the river, the equivalent of 60 tons of uranium flows into the river year after year. Compared to this isolated uranium mining, which would be done in a very proper and environmentally correct way. So if you would -- if people would only tell the truth --
Ted Simons: but I guess my question stands -- are those radical environmental policies?
Al Melvin: I believe so. If we -- this is now becoming a national security issue in my view. If the United States has not allowed to use its natural resources, whether it be oil, or gas, or copper, or uranium, or timber, then we -- I believe the end result in the final analysis will be a third world country. So we need to look at this in a rational way to employ our people. For instance, the Rosemont mine down south of Tucson that is much debated now. 2200 jobs. We need to put our people back to work and we can do it, in an environmentally sound way.
Ted Simons: Is Arizona prepared to oversee all of this land?
Al Melvin: Absolutely.
Ted Simons: Maintaining roads, maintaining --
Al Melvin: you bet.
Ted Simons: -- government infrastructure, fighting forest fires.
Al Melvin: Yes.
Ted Simons: How -- who is going to pay for it?
Al Melvin: I'll tell you. One, first, we want to convert this land to private land as fast as we can. But I had an opportunity to visit Canada about a year ago. I visited Alberta, the oil sands, and the northern part of that province, and British Columbia. And one very interesting thing about Canada, they have more federal land than we do. But the critical difference is, each province manages the federal land in the province. The lumber, the natural resources, the grazing, the water, and they do it in an environmentally correct way.
Ted Simons: Can Arizona do it? Because we can't say -- there are those who say we can't seem to handle where we've got right now. Where is that money coming from?
Al Melvin: I know we can do it. We have a state forester, maybe people don't know that. We have 15 counties with their own forest equivalent. We have our own firefighting teams, we have 10 major prison complexes in Arizona, each one of them has a wildfire team that's train and ready to go. Surely we can do a better job than this most horrendous fire that we had last year, and now the lady before me, when I asked her what are you going to do to fight this fire? She said, well, if it gets into a monument area, there's nothing we can do. The only thing we can hope for is a hiking trail might -- I'm starting to laugh -- might impede it in some way. It's basically just to let it burn.
Ted Simons: So you think it's a better idea to have roads crisscrossing all of our forestlands?
Al Melvin: No. I believe that we have schools of forestry management in the west, in all the western states, and we can do this in a correct and logical way. But the main thing is that the 50 states should be treated in an equal manner, all 50 of us, and therefore we need to increase the percentage of private land.
Ted Simons: Last question, for those who say people come to Arizona because of the beauty, because of the nature, because there are places you can go where there's not a lot of human contact and the wildlife, the Flora, the fauna, is still there and hasn't been messed with. How do you respond to those folks?
Al Melvin: My response to them is that we can manage these forests, these federal lands in a much more responsible way than the federal government is. If you go to Yellowstone national park, it is in three stages. One-third burned about 20 years ago and was never cleared or responded to. One-third, the beetles got it, and the final third is waiting for the next fighter -- fire or beetle attack. I know we can do a better job.
Ted Simons: We've got to stop you right there. It's good to have you here. Good to get your viewpoints out there. Thank you.
Al Melvin: Good to be here.
Al Melvin:Senator, Tucson;