Focus on Sustainability: Arizona Wilderness

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Ian Dowdy, Conservation Outreach Associate for the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, talks about efforts to protect Arizona’s wilderness, including the Sonoran Desert Heritage proposal.

Ted Simons: In tonight's "Focus on Sustainability," we look at Arizona's wilderness areas and how protecting these areas can benefit both the environment and the state's economy. Here now to talk about sustaining Arizona's wilderness for human benefit is Ian Dowdy, Conservation Outreach Associate for the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. Good to have you, thanks for joining us.

Ian Dowdy: It's my pleasure.

Ted Simons: Before we get too deeply into this, define wilderness.

Ian Dowdy: Wilderness is that place that we all aspire to be in when we want to be outdoors and away from the impacts of humans. We want to be in a place that's quiet. That's what wilderness is. It isn't a place necessarily with a formal designation, but it's a place that has wild character and is untrammeled by man.

Ted Simons: What is -- the Sonoran Desert Heritage Proposal? What's involved and how does it impact the wilderness?

Ian Dowdy: The proposal is really a collaboration of a diverse group of stakeholders throughout the Valley and the state. It's a group of folks that came together five years ago and said, we have incredible threats from the rapid pace of development moving through western Maricopa County, these regions in the west side of the county. And we need to do something to help conserve them. And so we all came together as a group and put together the basis for what is now the Sonoran Desert Heritage Proposal.

Ted Simons: And this is a proposal, again, you protect land, sustained rights, but you also recognize the economic benefit and the economic impact of doing so.

Ian Dowdy: Oh, absolutely. The area including the Gila Bend Mountains is really incredible. Outdoor recreation contributes $5 billion a year to the state's economy. This conservation also protects Luke Air Force Base and the Barry Goldwater Range. Luke Air Force Base contributes $2 billion a year to our economy. All of our military installations rely on the Barry Goldwater Range, and together all of them contribute $9 billion to our state's economy.

Ted Simons: I'm seeing wilderness on one side, Air Force Base on the other. There's a big gulf between. How do you get the two extremes together?
Ian Dowdy: What you have to do in today's congressional atmosphere, you have to get folks to look at something and recognize the benefits of it. And realize the overall good is much better than dividing up little things in here. This appeals to everyone we talked to in our community and we say, "How can we make it better?" and that is why it has become as pragmatic as it is.

Ted Simons: And some of those areas that we just saw, are those wilderness areas that haven't been designated just yet, but they would be in this plan and, would there be wilderness areas that would be revised so that Air Force concerns and such are attended to.

Ian Dowdy: Well, the anchor for this proposal is the existing wilderness areas designated in 1990. Since that time there has been no new wilderness designated in our state since 1990. This says, okay, these are these great wilderness areas, we're going to put them together into national conservation areas, and they will have a broader management support for them. Also we're going to package them in such a way that they contribute to Luke Air Force Base and others by protecting the ground so that development doesn't encroach into their low-level flight corridors.

Ted Simons: And you have had agreement on all sides on this particular issue?

Ian Dowdy: There are always things folks don't always agree on. Everyone recognizes the value of conservation, and with Luke Air Force Base getting the F-35, it's more important to preserve these flight corridors for them.

Ted Simons: Is anyone from Arizona's congressional delegation looking at this and saying, I can run with this?

Ian Dowdy: We have met with all of our delegations and they are very much appraised as to what's going on. They are all interested and paying attention to it. However, you know, it is Congress. This is an election year and it's important that we spend our time and effort trying to make this as best as it can be before we get it to stage where it's introduced.

Ted Simons: Very good, great information, and something certainly to watch out for. Thank you for joining us, we appreciate it.

Ian Dowdy: You're welcome.

Ted Simons: To learn more about protecting Arizona's wilderness, join Ian Dowdy tomorrow morning on ASU's Tempe campus. He's a featured speaker in a lecture series sponsored by ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability. The lecture starts at 8:30 a.m. in Wrigley Hall, Room 481. Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon," our Vote 2012 coverage continue as Republican candidates for Arizona's district 4 debate the issues. Join us for the Republican primary debate Wednesday evening, 5:30 here on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Ian Dowdy:Conservation Outreach Associate, Arizona Wilderness Coalition;

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