Arizona’s Public Lands

More from this show

Dean Bibles of the Public Lands Foundation, BLM State Director for Arizona Ray Suazo, and ASU West History Professor Dr. Eduardo Pagan, discuss the history, purpose, and evolving role of Arizona’s public lands. The discussion is a preview of some of the topics that will be discussed at the Public Lands Commemoration Forum that takes place September 27th in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Former Supreme Court justice Sandra day O'Connor and former Arizona governor and U.S. interior secretary Bruce Babbitt are among the dignitaries speaking tomorrow at the public lands commemoration forum in Phoenix. Co-sponsored by the public lands foundation, the BLM, and ASU's Morrison institute for public policy, it marks the 200th anniversary of the general land office which would become the bureau of land management. The BLM manages more than 12 million acres of Arizona's public lands and another 17 million acres of underground natural resources. Here to talk about the managing of Arizona's public lands is Ray Suazo, BLM state director for Arizona, Dean bibles of the public lands foundation and a former Arizona BLM director and ASU history professor, Dr. Eduardo pagan who co-hosts History Detectives here on PBS. He's moderator at the commemoration forum. Thanks for joining us. Let's talk about the forum in general. What's the focus? What will be the attraction, what will be discussed?
Ray Suazo: The attraction is really the to to share with youth and engage youth in understanding the importance of public lands, to have the expertise of Sandra day O'Connor and former governor and secretary of interior Bruce Babbitt to share some of the policy making, the processes and the government that went into what shapes our public lands today. Engaging the youth in understanding that, being able to answer questions, ask questions and get a perspective of why public land is important to us.
Ted Simons: Engaging the youth, engaging everyone. This flies below the radar quite a bit, doesn't it?
Dean Bibles: Yes, it does. As long as decisions don't affect someone directly, pretty well the activities whether wilderness management or oil and gas leasing goes under the radar, but it's extremely important piece of American history as well as important today for Americans. I live in Texas, and to have the Texans head to Colorado and Arizona and other places west where there's public lands for their recreation and hunting and so forth because we have no public lands or very little in the state of Texas.
Ted Simons: Why is that?
Dean Bibles: Because Texas gave up its claim to the center of the Rocky Mountains that went up into Wyoming. Texas claimed that when it was an independent nation. It came in; it was an infant nation from 1836 to 1845 when it came in as state. It was an independent nation. It negotiated to give up its claims to its land in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming in exchange for keeping all of the lands in Texas so it has its own general land office.
Ted Simons: Which proves that history still does make a difference when you're talking about this. Give us an overview of history. The Homestead Act, the general land office. What are we talking about here?
Eduardo Pagan: General land office came into being in 1812 to disperse territory and sell it and over see the selling of territory. What's interesting is that personal income tax didn't exist in the early 19th century so the government raised their funds by selling off lands. The Homestead Act that you asked about in 1862 signed by President Lincoln was designed to encourage settlement of these western territories. We're talking about a different west in 1862 than in 1812, but for the price of breaking the land and occupying it for seven years if I remember correctly, you could have that land. It was 160 acre parcels. That act Really encouraged settlement of the west where what we enjoy today.
Ted Simons: This was you mentioned President Lincoln. It was a civil war, war between the states aspect of this as well. Couldn't be slave owning.
Eduardo Pagan: That's right. Arizona territory couldn't be slave owning. New Mexico territory could be but that was in recognition of a larger Hispanic tradition of owning people.
Dean Bibles: Actually women could Homestead too as well as any race. It was not limited.
Ted Simons: freed slaves were allowed as well.
Dean Bibles: Yes.
Ted Simons: How did the general land office evolve into the bureau of land management?
Ray Suazo: Well, you know, the traditional aspect of the general land office in moving into what we know today as the BLM evolved by a lot of public participation and folks like former state director Dean Bibles working together with governor Bruce Babbitt and really recognizing the need to set aside important landscapes, wilderness areas, WSAs, things that are now part of our public land system, moving into the arena working collaboratively with the grazing community, setting up the ability to work with the public on things that are important now like recreation in the public setting. As you look at that history of the GLO, moving to what we do today in BLM, the diversity and complexity of the lands that we manage we were sharing this earlier that we do everything from conservation and preservation of really unique resources to extraction and use of resources for development of energy, recreation, mining and minerals that lead to the very things that we used in our households today. I think over that time frame, you look at where we were with public land management and the land that is all a privilege to us at this point in time and the role we play, it's migrated quite a bit. It's still very uniquely and highly important to the American people.
Dean Bibles: Technically the lands were more or less open to grazing, public lands were. And the overgrazing during the '30s during the dust bowl days, the Congress knew that something had to be done, so they passed the Taylor grazing act and the grazing service was created then and grazing districts were created to try to manage, control and manage to prevent overgrazing. In 1947 with the reorganization of 1947 there were quite a number, I believe the Hoover commission, the bureau of land management was formed by a marriage of which it was referred to as a shotgun marriage between the grazing service and land office because these were trying to manage for grazing and this side was trying to dispose of the land.
Eduardo Pagan: Can I add one piece to that? What's interesting is that most of the federal land that's held is in the western states. The 12 western states. Why is that? It's because those lands were the lands that no one else wanted. The government land office or general land office could not sell it, so what we now have as national parks and all the heritage sites, these were lands people didn't want, so the government was faced with the question, what do we do with this land?
Ted Simons: Also kind of referencing earlier here the idea of fear, of over grazing, logging in areas that were considered too pristine for that, oil and gas, mineral. The idea was there has to be some regulation.
That's right.
Ted Simons: Okay, so from there has to be some regulation to the relationship now, I'm hearing voices out there saying there's too much regulation. What's going on with that relationship?
Eduardo Pagan: Well, it's very interesting. Actually when you look at the enabling legislation for the bureau of land management, I'm thinking about the federal land policy management act of 1976, that was the first legislative authorization that gave a mandate to the bureau of land management to both preserve land but also to oversee usage of those resources. Prior to that time the B.L.M. had to deal with a multiplicity of laws regarding land usage. They had to negotiate that very complicated terrain. After 1976 the BLM has dual purposes, to preserve and protect but also to oversee the usage of these resources. In some ways those two goals come into conflict with each other. These gentlemen have had to negotiate the competing demands of several different constituents from ranchers to miners to conservationists, ordinary citizens who enjoy going to the national parks. You have to moderate all of those voices, those competing demands for that land.
Ted Simons: Talk about some of those competing demands and the dynamic you have to deal with.
Ray Suazo: I think that, you know, from my perspective and Dean would share in on this knowledge is that often times as you make your decisions on the impact or the types of projects that you're dealing with in public land that you're going to have competing interests and sometimes you'll have one party that is not happy with you and another party on the other side that's not happy with you. There's never a time that I believe that you have everybody at the table that's going to be content with your approach. If you take a balanced approach and think about your responsibilities to protect resources while making them available and it's really in that key word of having a balanced approach, bring people to the table and talk about the solutions that allow for that. That's really the challenge and it's one of the things that make public land and working for the BLM tremendous.
Ted Simons: Has that challenge changed over the years?
Dean Bibles: I think it's gotten much more severe. When I first went to work with BLM, in Wyoming, the primary users were the oil and gas and grazing. But with the passage of in 1964 of two pieces of legislation, one the public land law review commission, the other the classification multiple use act, we were required to go out and talk to counties, to people, see what they wanted to do with these lands under the classification multiple use act. The public land law review commission was a very high level commission that studied what these lands should be. It was the outcome that created the passage of the federal land policy management act in 1976 that there were some 5,000 land laws we were dealing with between the general land office responsibilities and the BLM, and so with the advent of needing to manage for wilderness, take that through -- Arizona incidentally was the first state to be statewide B.L.M. lands in Arizona were taken into the wilderness just like Ray mentioned, negotiations with all the various interests including the mining interest up on the Arizona strip where uranium mining was heavy at that time.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, what does the public need to know about managing public lands? Here in Arizona specifically and are there common misperceptions that you think should be clarified?
Eduardo Pagan: Absolutely. I would say the first and greatest myth that exists is that our lands are being managed by an absentee landlord which is absolutely not the case. The staff in your offices then and now as well are Arizona citizens. They live in the state. They are not some nameless, faceless Washington bureaucrat. These are fellow Arizonans who care very much about the land, care about the state, care very much about our economy, but also our heritage we leave to our children and grandchildren. That's one of the biggest myths out there that our lands are being managed by Washington D.C. Ultimately in a legal sense yes, but in a very lived way, no. These gentlemen are citizens of our state, fellow friends and neighbors.
Ted Simons: As far as the future of managing public lands in Arizona, with everything we have talked about, much of it in the past, what do you see for the future?
Ray Suazo: I see a bright future. The demands on public land, the requests and opportunities to recreate and use public land is before us. Earlier today we had America's great outdoor event where we were out at Rio Salado and did river restoration with youth. We talked about the great opportunities of the butterfly, Monarch butterfly sanctuary and the importance of getting our youth engaged with public land management and understanding that balance between conservation and use and once we do that and as we do that moving forward, public lands will be in good hands.
Ted Simons: Last point here relatively quickly, you're optimistic about the future?
Dean Bibles: Very optimistic. It's been complex in the past. Each time we pass on to the next generation it's more complex, but people I think love the public lands. It's a place that they all, we all own, all Americans own a piece of this. It's I think a very bright future. With all of the public lands. I'm including not just those managed by B.L.M. but the other public agencies.
Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Gentlemen, thank you so much. Great discussion. Good to have you here.
Thank you.

Dean Bibles:Public Lands Foundation; Ray Suazo:State Director for Arizona, BLM; Dr. Eduardo Pagan:History Professor, ASU West;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024
airs April 16

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates as part of ‘AZ Votes 2024’

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Poetry in America image with photos of four poets and the name of the show
airs April 18

Mushrooms, Weakness and Doubt 

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: