Three good things of note:
• Thanks to all of you, Arizona now has a Public Lands Recognition Day. That day is the first Sunday of April. It is not a state holiday, nor does its creation require any state spending, but for a state that has a long -- albeit failed -- history of trying to turn public lands private, it is a step in the right direction.
• The Land and Water Conservation Fund became a permanent fund. This is critical because the LWCF is now removed from some of the political shenanigans that have plagued it in the past. The LWCF funds public access to public lands. This may seem an oxymoron, but access to public lands in many places -- including part of southern Arizona -- is severely restricted. The national total of public lands you can never use is 9.5 million acres. The LWCF will continue to chip away at that total and open those lands for public access.
The LWCF also benefits waterfowl and wetlands, provides funding for critical infrastructure at our national parks, benefits neotropical birds, fishermen, and landowners who want to restore their land. It really is a comprehensive conservation program.
The annual funding for the LWCF remains in Congress' hands, so public scrutiny is still needed.
• The Interior Department has signed an order directing the BLM to recognize and consider public access whenever the BLM is considering lands for disposal. This is vital, as many access points to public lands are small BLM parcels that adjoin private land holdings and without this order, these parcels would be considered for disposal.
Two bad things of note:
• Feral horses and feral burros remain out of control and no one seems interested in dealing with the issues. We spend millions managing these out-of-control populations at the expense of our native wildlife. Arizona’s western deserts are being destroyed by burros and nothing is being done to resolve the issue.
I know this is going to upset some folks, but...Gus Cothran, a horse geneticist at Texas A&M University, says horses are not “native” to the United States. Technically, they aren’t “wild” either. “All of the horse populations that we’ve ever seen in the Western Hemisphere are feral, in the sense that they did derive at some point from a domestic horse population,” he said in a recent High Country News article.
What this means is we are allowing our romantic notions of the wild-wild west influence our management decision. Science is out and emotion is in. Never a good thing for wildlife. Saying we have native wild horses is simply not true. We do have feral horses running loose around the west.
•The number of hunters and hence the amount of conservation dollars are decreasing. It is likely time for the general public to step up to the plate and start paying for wildlife conservation and management. Hunters and fishermen pay an 11% excise tax on the things they buy like rods, reels, lures, guns, ammunition, bows and arrows. The bird watchers, mountain bikers, photographers, kayakers and spelunkers pay nothing, as no tax dollars are allocated to wildlife management.