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November 9, 2012


Sonoran Desert Heritage Conservation Plan Tied Closely to Military Readiness and Economic Strength in Arizona

Economic and defense factors bolster the need for federal public land conservation.


Contacts:              Les Corey, Arizona Wilderness Coalition/ / 520-326-4300

                       Dave Richins, Sonoran Institute/ /602-625-5162

                       Mike Quigley, The Wilderness Society/ / 520-334-8741


PHOENIX – A broad coalition of communities, organizations, developers, military interests and elected officials are highlighting an innovative way to safeguard national military readiness and bolster Arizona’s local economy through conservation of public lands. Called the Sonoran Desert Heritage Proposal, the conservation initiative requires action and approval by Congress and would create new national conservation areas (NCA) and wilderness on approximately 700,000 acres of federal lands west of the White Tank Mountains.

At a reception on November 9, supporters of the plan shared economic and defense data with key community leaders, underscoring the need for conservation in this growing region of Arizona and responding to election-season anxiety that Arizona’s military installations were at risk. Attendees watched a brand new episode of This American Land, airing nationally this fall on PBS, that showcases the Sonoran Desert Heritage plan and the diverse stakeholders that are advocating for a bill from Congress.

“It’s very easy for us to support this project,” says Ron Sites, Executive Director of Fighter Country Partnership, which represents the men, women, families and mission of Luke Air Force Base. “Whatever preserves the ground protects the air space, which further protects Luke's mission now and in the future for the F-16 and the F-35. It’s an awesome collaboration and we really like it.” 

Luke AFB sits at the edge of many of the lands proposed for protection, training the world’s greatest fighter pilots over the open lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The extra protection through proposed NCA and wilderness designations will safeguard the open nature of these desert lands and prevent future disposal for development that could encroach around the Base and the vital Barry M. Goldwater Range. This storied training range is used not only by Luke pilots, but for training missions from the nearby Yuma Proving Grounds, Yuma Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS), and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base outside of Tucson.

All totaled, military installations in Arizona contribute approximately $9.1 billion to the Arizona economy and support more than 96,000 jobs. By preserving intact habitat and native species on public lands off-base, the proposal minimizes the possibility that Luke, the Goldwater Range, MCAS- Yuma, or Yuma Proving Ground will become refuges of last resort for endangered species like desert bighorn sheep and Sonoran Desert tortoise. Conservation today avoids future costly alternatives, such as training workarounds or replacement of existing test and training capability.

“Conservation designations on high-quality public lands like these serves a military need and complements the military mission, while simultaneously providing traditional hunting and recreation opportunities for Arizonans, and preserving native habitat and species in the Sonoran Desert,” says Mike Quigley, Arizona Representative for The Wilderness Society.

The Sonoran Desert Heritage plan complements the Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI), which supports military readiness by preserving natural habitat on non-DoD lands to reduce on-base habitat restriction requirements; by protecting compatible land uses around bases; and by preserving open space that adds value to surrounding communities. In the several years that REPI has been operational, DoD has spent more than $633 million preserving 215,000 acres of non-DoD lands in 24 states.

“The Sonoran Desert Heritage conservation plan is a no-cost conservation easement for our military installations, connecting irreplaceable wildlife habitat and migration corridors, and giving the gift of protected open space to future generations of Arizonans,” says Les Corey, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “This is a pragmatic, fiscally prudent option for preserving Arizona’s economy and natural legacy, and we look forward to working with Congress to make it a reality.”


“Outdoor recreation regularly tops $5 billion in sales and associated retail income to the state of Arizona,” says Diane Brossart, president and CEO of Valley Forward Association. “Protecting public lands in the West Valley will help produce much-needed jobs and revenue in our region, where people come to take in the spectacular scenery, wildlife, and one-of-a-kind cultural history. The Sonoran Desert Heritage initiative will help shape a bright, sustainable future for all Arizonans.” 

Supporters of the proposal have been utilizing a broad-based public outreach and vetting process to ready the proposal for legislation. Last fall, proponents hosted five public meetings on the proposal across the West Valley and have adjusted the plan to incorporate user groups’ suggestions and address any concerns.  

“The Sonoran Desert Heritage campaign has been one of the most transparent outreach processes that we’ve ever been engaged in,” says Dave Richins, director of the Sonoran Institute’s Sun Corridor Legacy Program. “Communities facing tremendous future growth in this part of Arizona will be better equipped to develop economic strategies that take advantage of their proximity to scenic beauty, outdoor fun, and cultural education on these public lands—knowing all the while that they had a hand in making the final proposal as common-sense and collaborative as possible.”

The Sonoran Desert Heritage advocacy team indicated that the goal is to develop a final proposal before the end of the year, and deliver it to Congress for consideration and approval in 2013.

For more information about the proposal, visit

Watch the This American Land episode at


The Arizona Wilderness Coalition’s mission is to permanently protect and restore wilderness and other wild lands and waters in Arizona for the enjoyment of all citizens and to ensure that Arizona's native plants and animals have a lasting home in wild nature.

The Wilderness Society:

Fighter Country Partnership:

Valley Forward Association:

Sonoran Institute:


-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement