Urban areas and surroundings, Arizona, USA
In the state of Arizona, an official program allows for leasing and fee-simple acquisition of state trust lands for conservation purposes. The trust lands include uplands and may include some submerged freshwater lands. As Arizona does not have submerged ocean or marine areas, the information is presented here for potential applicability to other countries and U.S. states that include ocean and coastal areas as well as for lessons learned.
The Arizona Preserve Initiative (API) encourages preservation of state trust lands in and around urban areas, allowing private and public entities to lease or purchase state trust lands for long-term protection. From its passage in 1996 through July 2005, 42,500 acres of state trust lands were classified for conservation purposes and 2,331 acres were purchased by private entities from the state for preservation. No conservation leases were issued.
The API focuses on land preservation in and around urban areas. These were originally defined as state trust lands within incorporated cities and towns, within one mile of incorporated municipalities of less than 10,000 persons, and within three miles of municipalities equal to or greater than 10,000 persons. These boundaries were later expanded in two counties and other designated regions.
Under provisions of the program, before lease or sale, conservation proponents must petition the State Lands Commissioner to have the land reclassified for conservation purposes. The Commissioner then consults with local governing authorities and considers the recommendations of a Conservation Advisory Committee. Consideration is given to mineral resources, existing leases, planning permits, and development plans in the area. The case for conservation may be based upon open space value, unique scenic beauty, wildlife and vegetation, cultural resources, wildlife habitat, and multiple use values, such as watershed integrity, recreation, tourism, and scientific education.
If the Commissioner approves reclassification, s/he may adopt a conservation plan developed by the interested parties. The Commissioner may withdraw the land from sale or lease for three to five years to allow time for the proponents to prepare the plan and to raise funds. The fair market value is determined by two independent appraisals. After legal notice, a conservation lease or sale is publicly auctioned. The land value may not be reduced from the appraised value.
The passage and subsequent suspension of the API has been one chapter in a long political struggle over growth and management of state trust lands in Arizona. A legal challenge to the API was threatened in a letter from two property rights advocates in 2003, who argued that the state constitution requires that trust lands be leased or sold at auction for maximum return to the beneficiaries (public school, hospitals, etc.). The Lands Commissioner asked the Attorney General of Arizona for an opinion, and the Attorney General felt the challenge might have legal merit if brought to court. The Lands Commissioner chose to suspend the program rather than risk litigation. In 2006, conservation advocates sponsored a ballot proposition that would have replaced the API, conserving 694,000 acres of state land and setting up a new board to administer state trust lands. Facing a competing proposition from the state legislature and opposition from a coalition of ranchers, homebuilders, and some educators, the measure was narrowly defeated at the polls.
|Leased area||0 acres (0 hectares)|
|Fee-simple area||2,331 acres (943.3 hectares)|
|Resource||Public Trust land in and around urban areas|
|Dates/duration||Leases up to 50 years; fee-simple sales are perpetual|
|Fee/price||Appraised market value. Compensation to non-renewed leaseholders.|
|Location||Qualifying areas within Arizona|
|Use||Protection and open space|
|Grantor(s)||Arizona State Land Department|
|Grantee(s)||State or local government, business, state land lessee or a group of citizens|
- While the original passage of the API demonstrated the possibility of incorporating conservation leasing and ownership into management of state trust lands, the program encountered renewed controversy.
- Conservation leasing and ownership of state trust lands may be (or be perceived to be) in conflict with trust mandates, such as funding public education.
- While the leasing provisions of API have not been utilized, conservation land sales have raised nearly $40 million in permanent trust funds.
Conservation purchasers have paid nearly $40 million for trust lands.
Arizona State Land Department
1616 West Adams Street
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
The API page on the Arizona State Land Department web site includes links to a Project Status Report, Background Information, Processing Steps, the Conservation Advisory Committee (CAC) Statute, and Statutory Provisions and Rules.
The API is described in more detail on the Arizona State Land Department web site