|September 14, 1962
By Morris K. Udall
ARIZONA'S PUBLIC LANDS -- BOTH BLESSING AND BURDEN
Arizona covers 72.6 million acres and is the 6th
largest state (after Alaska, Texas, California, Montana and New Mexico);
but only 15 states have fewer people. Land for growth ought to be plentiful,
yet in Arizona there is a short supply in many communities where it is
needed most. This paradox occurs because our state and federal governments
own such a large proportion of the land. The picture looks like this:
While this is a rather discouraging picture, things could be worse: Federal ownership in Alaska is 99.7%; in Nevada, 86%. And even if we consider only the 8.8 million acres of privately-owned land as the "real Arizona" our population density is still only 95 people per square mile as compared with 806 in New Jersey or 85 in Tennessee.
We would have a better tax base, and several important cities surrounded by public lands could have a more orderly growth, however, if some of the 88% owned by the U.S. and Arizona could be placed in private hands. People often ask me why great quantities of federal land cannot be made available to Arizonans, especially around major cities. This is a logical question and deserves a logical answer.
In the first place much of the federal land is
located in remote areas far from our centers of population growth; 90%
of our population growth is in Tucson and Phoenix. Secondly, most of the
federally-owned areas are in present uses which few people would care to
change. Here's a quick breakdown on the 53.9 million federal acres:
From this survey, one must conclude that all these
classes of land are likely to remain principally U.S. ownership except
for the 13.1 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land. It is to
source that Arizona must look primarily for additional private lands. Much
of this land is now occupied by cattle and sheep growers under BLM leases,
with part of the rentals going to the state. But BLM has already disposed
of many thousands of acres and will continue to do so under several separate
Any attempt to place state-owned lands in private hands encounters an entirely different set of problems. Nearly all of the 9.9 million acres owned by Arizona are in "school sections" set aside by various acts of Congress to support and encourage elementary, high school and college education. These lands are leased to cattlemen and others, and in 1961 produced from rentals (and some sales) a total of $3.2 million-an important item in our school finances.
Most Arizona education officials are strongly opposed to any widespread disposition of these lands. Under the 1912 Enabling Act, Congress forbade Arizona from selling any of these properties except by public bid and at not less than appraised value. Occasional but limited sales are made by the State Land Department.
The 1962 Arizona Legislature petitioned Congress to modify the Enabling Act so that counties, cities and school districts could acquire state lands for park, school and public purposes either free or at less than appraised value. All members of the Arizona delegation in Congress have introduced bills to make this possible. The legislature would then determine whether, and on what terms, to make these state lands available to local governments. These bills are opposed by the State Land Commissioner and many educators who feel that general school financing should take priority, and that specific schools, cities and counties should have to bid for full cash value against potential private owners.
As Arizona grows and prospers it is obvious that we will need more and more privately owned land. A part of our federal lands should be made available for private development, but the available supply is not as large as one might think.
As this summary clearly reveals, federal ownership of lands in Arizona is not "all bad"; some of our greatest economic and scenic assets --world-famous Grand Canyon, our magnificent National Forests and important military bases -- are maintained by Uncle Sam. Few would have it otherwise.
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