Grand Canyon Watershed Monument Opposition

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The Arizona Game and Fish Commission opposes the Presidential designation of a new National Monument in the Grand Canyon Watershed. Commissioner Kurt Davis will talk about why the commission is opposed to the new national monument.

TED SIMONS: The Arizona Game and Fish Commission opposes the presidential designation of a new national monument in the Grand Canyon Watershed. Here to explain is game and fish commissioner Kurt Davis. Good to see you, thanks for joining us.

KURT DAVIS: You bet.

TED SIMONS: First of all, before we fine out the opposition and the reasons for and against everything going here, what is the Grand Canyon watershed?

KURT DAVIS: It's a potential designation of 1.7 million acres that basically is north of the Grand Canyon, some of it comes south, heads east and west. It's a massive proposal.

TED SIMONS: And the commission now is opposed to that area being a national monument. Why?

KURT DAVIS: Well, there's several primary reasons. One is monuments, we have evidence that monuments actually harm our ability to manage wildlife and we actually see a reduction in wildlife in certain monuments. Two is there's a degradation of habitat. We have forest health problems on the north rim. Colossal fires that hit Arizona. You declare monuments, the ability to manage the forest declines. There could be a big degradation of habitat. The fact is we can't afford the monument. The Obama administration has released a study showing our current monuments and parks have $11.5 billion in unmet infrastructure needs. And you don't add more to that if you're not already paying for what you have.

TED SIMSON: What would change with a designation of being a national monument?

KURT DAVIS: Well, what the proponents will tell you is nothing. Okay. So then the question is why do it? If nothing is going to change? The reality is as you see over time a reduction in access for recreation, for hunting, you see the inability to manage the habitat for the wildlife. Those are the things that are immediately hammered over time when you have a monument. If nothing would change, nobody would oppose it. But the fact of the matter is it will change and every monument has changed.

TED SIMONS: There are some who suggest that the biggest change and the biggest reason for this is to protect the area from future uranium mining. Valid?

KURT DAVIS: There's already -- the secretary of interior has already issued a 25-year moratorium on uranium mining. So that isn't going to change anything. The monument's not going to change that. Other than to send a message that mining in and around that area is off the table. We're a nation that now imports 96% of its uranium. If you believe in clean energy, if you believe that we need uranium for national defense, you can't just shut down everything. But this monument isn't going to stop anything that already isn't being stopped by the secretary's initiative.

TED SIMONS: Also, the idea of logging old growth forests. We've heard about this debate before. There's one thing to thin but it's another thing to thin old growth or to thin what logging companies don't seem to want. Talk to us about that.

KURT DAVIS: So we're really talking about a 1970s versus 2000s debate. You may have talked about this on the show. There's general agreement about thinning on our forests. The problem is we're not getting from A. to B. When you create a monument, you're not going to be doing any thinning. Old growth, new growth, you're not going to be doing any thinning. We will have catastrophic fires on the north rim. There already have been some serious fires but there will be catastrophic fires and that will harm wildlife.

TED SIMONS: Could it not be argued that the designation of a monument, not a park and this is very different from a park, although I think some suggest it's the first --

KURT DAVIS: The gateway drug.

TED SIMONS: Yes. Okay but some would suggest that by this designation, blm and the forest service would have a better opportunity to go and thin and not have to worry about all the fussing and fighting?

KURT DAVIS: I would say that's poppycock. The fact of the matter is the forest service or the blm has not been able to let long-term cutting contracts even in the areas, 20-year cutting contracts. The lawsuits that follow any time somebody tries to issue a cutting contract and in a monument, it even becomes more difficult. So if people are really honest about it, they're going to admit that the chances of thinning those forests will be pretty much vaporized.

TED SIMONS: As far as the ecosystem, the pro side, the 20 plus sensitive species in the area, they need protection. American Indian cultural sites, those things need protection. This will help protect those things.

KURT DAVIS: So the antiquities act, which is what the president uses, former president, not just this president, to declare monuments, it's a power that the Congress gave the presidents years and years ago. That act says the smallest possible area to protect a specific cultural, not 1.7 million acres. That's not the smallest possible. And that's not to protect a single cultural value. So these -- there are many people, many of the advocates that use those rationales because they sound good, but the reality is that's not how it works on the ground.

TED SIMONS: Supporters say it will improve access for recreation.

KURT DAVIS: It's just not -- again, if you go to any monument, you will see a reduction. There are several roads in the Sonoran, for example, desert monument that were closed to be studied. Now, they're closed because they don't have the money to potentially open them. That's not an increase in access. On wildlife, on the Sonoran monument, because game and fish can't get and in work on water catchments and those kinds of things, we've seen a reduction in the sheep population, big horn sheep, from over 100 to now around 30 in that monument. And that's because of an inability to get in and manage the wildlife. Arizona has the most species in the country other than a coastal state. So the most species of any inland state. We've been managing this area already for its great values.

TED SIMONS: Would not the monument designation, again, it sounds as though supporters, advocates say not a heck of a lot is going to change. If not a heck of a lot is going to change, if there's a little bit of change, and it's designed to protect all of these things --

KURT DAVIS: Does a little bit of change mean kicking all the ranchers out? Destroying the local economies of the surrounding areas, not being able to hunt, fish, recreate? Travel management is already greatly reducing the ability for people to camp, for example. There are already management tools that are in place. When they say nothing is going to change, then my question is why are you proposing this?

TED SIMONS: They're saying hunting can and will continue.

KURT DAVIS: It could. We've seen again in monuments and parks, you can't hunt at all in most parks unless it's been congressionally mandated because parks don't volunteer to allow hunting. So the fact of the matter is you don't ever see an increase in hunting opportunities. Teddy Roosevelt established this area as a game preserve. It already has a special place in American history as a game preserve and that's how it's been managed. We have Buffalo, we have deer, we have all kinds of wonderful species in that area who have been managed just fine since our statehood.

TED SIMONS: Supporters say as well and you mentioned the local economies and they mention other areas in the region where the local economy has been stimulated. You say, no?

KURT DAVIS: No, absolutely. You see a reduction. What happens to local economies in those areas is the people who really feed those local economies have to move on because there's reductions in their ability to spend money in those local economies, because they can't make a living there.

TED SIMONS: There's an Arizona republic editorial on this. They see a federal water grab behind this.

KURT DAVIS: The federal government then tries to take all the water rights. Senator McCain and senator flake who oppose the monument have introduced legislation to try to stop any water grab. Water is Arizona's lifeblood. And maintaining that area so it produces maximum water flow, that helps all Arizonans, is something that has been going on and that's how that area has been managed for many decades.

TED SIMONS: All right. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

TED SIMONS: And Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll have more on the city of Phoenix lawsuit against the FAA over flight path changes out of Sky Harbor and we'll talk about the state of corporate giving in Arizona. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Kurt Davis:Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner

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