It’s hard for a libertarian to get excited over proposed state trust land reforms

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly 
In addition to winter visitors, elections and cooler temperatures, the change of seasons in Tucson brings with it the opening day of quail season. This is a great event for my dog–who would rather hunt than eat–as well as for me. I always prefer going afield as a part of nature, rather than as a tourist.

So it was, in the early morning of opening day, my dog and I set out for the desert northwest of town. At Oracle Junction, we turned left on the Pinal Pioneer Parkway. We turned off the highway onto an unmarked dirt road, drove to the gate in the barbed-wire fence, and turned off the road to park out of the way. Beyond the fence lay state trust land.

This land is not actually the property of the state of Arizona; rather, it is held in a trust that was created by the same enabling legislation that created the state of Arizona.

The purpose of the trust is to fund a number of beneficiaries, the largest of which is the government school system (that would be “public education” for you Orwellian types). The trust is managed by the State Land Department. Most of the land, including that which I was about to enter, is leased to ranchers for cattle grazing. It is also open to hunting.

After negotiating the barbed-wire fence (a skill with which all Arizonans worthy of the name are familiar), my dog and I continued down the road. In the distance, I could see corrals next to a windmill and water tank. This particular area was too high for saguaros, but was filled with mesquite, creosote bush, prickly pear cactus, desert broom, and cholla. It is common to see antelope jacks, cottontails, pack rats, mice, mule deer and coyotes. Occasionally, a great horned owl will fly from a tree. Red-tailed hawks and Cooper’s hawks can be seen aloft.

A covey of 15-20 quail took flight about 30 yards in front of the dog–an auspicious beginning. We were still rather close to the highway, so I had yet to load my fowling piece (a Ruger Red Label Woodside).

As we continued in the direction of the birds, I thought about the latest attempt at land-management reform. There is a new initiative to “reinvent government,” at least as far as the land trust goes. The plan calls for preserving 694,000 of the 9.3 million acres of Arizona State Trust Land, while maintaining revenues to the beneficiaries. The initiative is in the petition phase at this time.

Now, those of us in the Freedom Movement would prefer that all the land be sold off, and a stake be driven through the heart of the government school system, but we are willing to compromise. After all, all but the 690,000 acres could still be sold in the future, and whining over a few hundred thousand acres is almost as peevish as whining about drilling on 2 percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, much of the set-aside land will have to be purchased at market value by the acquiring entities. Imagine that–paying for what they acquire!

There are some other common-sense changes, such as the creation of a board to manage the lands in place of a political appointee; the requirement of local involvement in changes and dispositions; and funding for the management of the trust coming from trust revenues. Existing grazing leases, and existing public access and uses–including hunting and fishing–will be preserved (my dog will be glad to hear that).

Interestingly, the Sierra Club–an organization that primarily hates the Bush administration, and does some conservation on the side–has adopted an official “neutral” position regarding the initiative. Apparently, it likes the idea of a reform initiative, but does not believe that this one preserves enough land, or that the plan’s definition of “conservation” is adequate.

So, while it is difficult for a libertarian to get terribly excited over changing the manner in which the government lords more than 12 percent of the land in the state, if the Sierra Club declines to endorse it, can it be all that bad?

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