Land Swap: Forest Service Land Surrounding Flagstaff

As reported in the Daily Sun on February 18 and again on the 24th, Senator McCain’s office has been negotiating a land trade deal with the Hopi Tribe and the State of Arizona Land Department. This proposal has not been finalized. Congressman O’Halleran is interested in receiving comments from his constituents regarding the proposal.  This post is designed to provide some background information and reference material so that your comments can be informed, useful, and persuasive — no matter what your position on the ultimate issue is. Comments should be directed to the Congressman’s Washington Office since that is where staff who are working on this are located. Likewise, comments to Senators McCain and Senator Flake should be made to their offices in Washington.

A final trade, if there is to be one, would require an Act of Congress, so our representatives in both Houses of Congress should hear from you. Contact information is provided at the end of this post.  If you have friends in other Congressional Districts who use the lands in question, please ask them to write to their own Congressmen. Representative Krysten Sinema, for example, probably has constituents who use trails in Flagstaff as do several Republican Congressmen in Arizona. While they may defer to Representative O’Halleran since the land is in his Congressional District, hearing from their own constituents can be important.

This latest negotiation is an attempt to make good on the United States’ obligations to the Hopi Tribe pursuant to a Settlement Agreement reached in 1995, which was approved by a 1996 Congressional Act, and which relates to a dispute going back decades before that. Pursuant to that 1996 law, the United States agreed to acquire certain land, including State Trust lands, and hold them in trust for Hopi use. State Trust lands are held pursuant to the Arizona Constitution for the benefit of Arizona schools so there must be some provision to compensate the State Land Department for lands taken by the federal government for the benefit of the Hopi. While we do not know exactly what parcels are proposed to be transferred from the State into trust for the Hopi, you can appreciate the need to acquire some State Trust Land when you look at a public parcel map that shows State Trust Land in blue and Hopi land interspersed in a cross-hatch pattern on this  map: Hopi State Cross Hatch. The land to be transferred from the State to the Hopi is east of Flagstaff and largely, if not entirely, south of I-40.

Rather than appropriate funds to purchase the State lands that the Hopi wish to acquire, the McCain proposal offers the Arizona State Land Department its pick of U.S. Forest Service parcels in trade for the State Land to be given to the Hopis. This is formalized in a 2017 Draft Bill.  Apparently, the State Land Department was asked to designate parcels it would take in trade. Of the 83,000 acres of Forest Service and BLM land selected by the State for trade, 9300 acres are in the Coconino National Forest with valuable parcels near Flagstaff, according to the Daily Sun reports.  The Hopi Tribe says it was not involved in the selection of the federal parcels that are at issue.

Sometime last fall, the U.S. Forest Service was asked to comment upon the maps showing the parcels requested by the State. The Forest Service comments, with maps attached that were apparently prepared by the State Land Department, is dated December 13, 2017. You can view and download the comments and maps here: USFS 2017 Report. (The maps are behind the memo.) It turns out that what the State wants includes some of the most prized recreational and wilderness forest land surrounding Flagstaff. Map of Parcels around Flagstaff.

City of Flagstaff and Coconino County officials found out about this proposal and began to raise questions. On February 22, Senator McCain and Congressman O’Halleran wrote to local officials promising the opportunity for their concerns to be heard. You can read the letter here:  Feb 22 2018 LT Local Officials from McCain O’H. It is our understanding that County Supervisors and some members of City Council have gone to Washington this week to meet with Congressional staff.

The Forest Service report details the resources on the sections of land near Flagstaff. They include land on the East and West side of town that is precious to folks for the scenic and recreational opportunities they afford.  The East side lands include some of the Forest Service lands that serve as a buffer to our beautiful Walnut Canyon National Monument, along with many popular hiking and biking trails, including portions of the Arizona Trail, Sandy Seep Trail, and Christmas Tree trail. The West side lands include the neighbor woods adjacent to Kachina Village, more hiking and biking trails, and Griffith Springs. All of these lands include abundant wildlife and important archeological sites.  State Trust Lands, unlike USFS lands, are not for public recreational uses or for conservation.  The State holds them in Trust for their beneficiaries, including public schools.  They can be auctioned off at any time and then developed.

Action Items:

  • Write to McCain, Flake, and O’Halleran explaining why you think some these lands should remain under Forest Service protection or not. Effective constituent letters include personal reasons for opposing or supporting the position you take, so try to include a personal experience, contribution, or need in your appeal. Here are links to our representatives’ contact info:
  • Attend the joint City Council and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, March 12 at 4 PM at City Hall. This a regularly scheduled joint meeting but we expect this topic will be on the agenda.

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*Again, it is important to emphasize that Congressman O’Halleran repeatedly has stated that he uses constituent correspondence to make decisions and to advocate for the District in speaking with his Congressional colleagues; he finds email correspondence through the contact form at the link above most valuable.

 

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