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What Public Lands Are at Risk in Arizona?

Saguaro stands, Ironwood Forest National Monument. Photo by Mark Miller

Saguaro stands in Ironwood Forest National Monument.

National Monuments—places like Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant, Agua Fria, and Ironwood Forest--are vulnerable to a recent Department of the Interior attack on land management agency procedures for protecting public lands as wilderness. In just the five national monuments in Arizona alone, citizens and the Bureau of Land Management have identified at least 1.1 million acres of untrammeled land that warrant wilderness designation—yet these special landscapes may never be permanently protected.

A common misperception is that National Monument status confers complete protection against development. In fact, a number of new monuments remain threatened by energy exploitation, habitat fragmentation, off-road vehicles, encroaching urbanization, and potential boundary reductions. Wilderness or WSA status would afford strong protections for the wildest parts of these places.

Look over our list and see which places you have been to and enjoyed the quiet tranquility, spotted wildlife, or taken your family to relax away from the city. Imagine if these places did not exist, or suddenly became open to oil drills, gas mines, and the drone of off-road vehicles.

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument         775,000 acres                                                                                         jeopardized

Citizens have identified about 775,000 acres of potential wilderness in the Grand Canyon Parashant—a remote area on the edge of one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Grand Canyon. The proposed wilderness areas encompass both stark arid desert and lush, high plateaus and are home to a collage of native species ranging from Mexican spotted owls, to desert tortoises, to mountain lions.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument             169,000 acres jeopardized

More than half the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument may be eligible for protection as wilderness. Wilderness designations would help conserve the monument’s sandstone slickrock, brilliant cliffs, and rolling sandy plateaus, plus archeological sites dating to the 12th century.

Ironwood Forest National Monument           33,000 acres jeopardized

Citizens and the Arizona Wilderness Coalition have identified 33,000 acres with outstanding wilderness characteristics in this National Monument, including some of the most biologically rich Sonoran desert. That desert boasts stands of ironwood trees and Saguaro cacti, and supports the last herd of Desert Bighorn sheep in the Tucson basin, but off road vehicle use, high road densities, human population explosion, and mining threaten their long-term survival. Protecting these wilderness quality lands will also help ensure an enduring resource for future generations, especially given a growth rate of 519% in the nearby town of Marana between 1990 and 2000.

Agua Fria National Monument                       38,000 acres jeopardized

This monument is a classic Arizona landscape: deep canyons, high rolling semi-desert grassland mesas, and rugged mountains. It’s semi-desert grasslands support Pronghorn antelope, mule and whitetail deer, and elk. The 38,000 acres of wilderness study areas that citizens have identified in the monument would protect its amazing riparian areas from off road vehicles, and hundreds of archeological sites from the looting and vandalism that occurs where motorized access is easy. Wilderness designations are particularly important as means of permanently ensuring outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation only few miles from a major interstate highway and less than an hour’s drive from the rapidly expanding metropolitan Phoenix area.

Sonoran Desert National Monument            134,000 acres jeopardized

Citizen inventories over the last five years have identified 100,000 acres that qualify for Wilderness Study Area status in the Sand Tank Mountains, the crown jewel of this national monument. Thick, lush stands of Saguaro cacti, Teddy bear chollo, Palo verde and Ironwood trees carpet a harsh desert land. The monument’s mountains and surrounding valleys support such desert wildlife such as the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn, Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and bobcats. Another 34,000 acres of citizen-proposed WSAs in the monument would protect the historic Butterfield stage route, as well as numerous prehistoric migration paths for ancient peoples. Without protection, all these areas face rampant off road vehicle use, power line Right of Way projects, and irresponsible target shooting as the urban centers of Phoenix and Tucson rapidly expand.


-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement