President Trump's Executive Order calling for a review of expansive executive land designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906 has predictably generated a volume of debate and dire predictions. Missing from the discussion is thoughtful dialogue about the critical role of multiple-use management in natural resources conservation and the sometimes dire consequences to our natural resources of removing such tools from the pallet of management actions and possibilities. This is all done in the name of "protection," but sometimes we literally love our most special places to death.
In Arizona, when the 2011 Wallow Fire burned 538,000 acres of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, it initially reached crown fire intensity in the "protected" Bear Wallow Wilderness Area. "Protected" is in quotes because a wilderness designation, supposedly our highest level of protection, can actually prohibit many forest health management practices that reduce wildfire risk and protect our public lands. We all knew the overgrown Bear Wallow Wilderness would burn, and burn catastrophically.
The National Forests destroyed in the Wallow Fire, like those across the country, were established in the 20th century primarily to protect watersheds, timber, wildlife, and grazing lands, allowing these natural resources to benefit American communities. Catastrophic wildfires cause erosion that can shorten the lifespan of dams, robbing us of water, the lifeblood of our cities, towns, farms and industry.
This was the reason the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Department opposed the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument proposal. The President's Order doesn’t eliminate any monuments or restrictions on the use of monument lands and waters, but the review may help highlight the stark difference between symbolic designation and real conservation.
Protected areas are an important part of our conservation landscape, but multiple-use lands are essential to our conservation future. Let’s restore balance to our conservation dialogue. A national conversation about the connections between multiple-use management and healthy forests and waters is long overdue.
By Larry D. Voyles, Director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department