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William Thornton: Ironwood Forest worthy of continued protection

William Thornton: Ironwood Forest worthy of continued protection

William Thornton

The authors (including three Arizona congressmen) of the Congressional Western Caucus letter to Interior Secretary Zinke regarding the review of national monuments under executive order 13792, would have been well-advised to heed the words of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.”

Space does not allow me to address all the misleading and downright false statements in the portion of the letter that asks for the elimination of Ironwood Forest National Monument. I will try to hit the high points.

CWC statement: “Ironwood Forest National Monument prevents multiple use on State Trust Land that has harmed the beneficiary K-12 education”.

Fact: Monument designation had no impact on management of State Trust Land which, by law, is open only to holders of valid use permits. Ranchers pay grazing fees to the State Land Department. Hunters purchase licenses from the Arizona Department of Game and Fish. Hikers, campers, picnickers, photographers, equestrians, etc., may purchase permits from the State Land Department at nominal cost. The monument has not resulted in one dime of lost revenue to K-12 education.

CWC statement: Monument proclamation explicitly prohibited OHV use on IFNM lands.

Fact: Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) use is not prohibited anywhere in the monument but restricted to designated roads and trails. The same restrictions apply on all Arizona state lands, and most other federal land in Southern Arizona. They are necessary to protect natural and cultural resources. In cooperation with Arizona Game and Fish, the Bighorn Sheep Society placed vehicle barriers to protect critical habitat on Ragged Top Mountain from irresponsible OHV use.

The CWC letter implies that ranchers have concerns regarding access.

Fact: The 11 holders of grazing leases entirely or partly on monument land had significant input into the travel management planning process regarding access needs including the number, type and width of gates needed.

It’s unfortunate that no member of the CWC visited Tucson or Ironwood Forest National Monument. Had they done so, and spoken with Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bronson, they would have learned that monument designation was requested by the supervisors as a key component of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a landmark agreement negotiated by conservationists and developers to protect critical habitat and guide development into less environmentally sensitive lands.

Had they spoken with any of the of the hundreds of volunteers who have invested thousands of hours of sweat equity on activities including trash removal, eradication of invasive buffelgrass, restoration of native vegetation and maintenance of water catchments for wildlife, they could have learned a lot about the special qualities that make the monument worthy of continued protection. These qualities include the only remaining indigenous herd of desert bighorn sheep in the Tucson area, the largest stand of desert ironwood trees, hundreds of archaeological sites and critical habitat for an endangered cactus.

Before the comment period closed on July 10, more than 2.5 million comments were received on Arizona monuments alone. An overwhelming majority favored keeping monuments intact.

The official comment period is over but, if you haven’t already done so, please contact Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain and your congressperson. None of the Arizona members of the CWC who signed on to the letter represent any part of the Tucson area.

William Thornton is a second-generation native Arizonan, lifelong conservationist and outdoor enthusiast. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Arizona Heritage Alliance and the Friends of Ironwood Forest.


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