As happens every election season, the politicians start ranting about how “government is the problem, not the solution,” and how government services and workforce are draining the economy. The public often joins in until they realize that popular services, like Social Security, Medicare and mail delivery, and their favorite local Congressperson are all part of the government. On Thursday, September 27, an event at the Black Canyon Conference Center in Phoenix—The Public Lands Commemoration Forum—recognized the monetary values that Federal land management provides to a western state like Arizona.
The event provided a history lesson for the 300 community members and students who attended this celebration of the 100th anniversary of the State of Arizona, the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act, and the 200th anniversary of the General Land Office (GLO). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Public Lands Foundation (PLF), Arizona State University’s (ASU) Morrison Institute, and Arizona Forward sponsored the program.
The forum featured important public figures from Arizona and elsewhere. Professor Charles Wilkinson, a notable historian, lawyer and author from the University of Colorado in Boulder, reviewed the history of the West from the 1848 Gold Rush through designation of the national monuments in the 1990’s.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor explained that the Judicial branch does not have “a perspective” on public lands; its role is only to determine whether a law is constitutional and whether the Executive Branch has faithfully interpreted the law. She surprised the audience when she mentioned, that, as a 1952 graduate of Stanford Law School, 40 law firms rejected her because she was female.
Former Arizona Governor and Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt explained that the original Articles of the Confederation declared that the Western lands were to be held by the Federal government, and that the Constitution does not mention any state authority over Federal lands. He also discussed the President’s authorities to make designations.
Current BLM Acting BLM Director Mike Pool, and Dr. Eduardo Pagan from ASU, provided the “bottom line” to the conference: Interior lands contribute over $3.6 billion and 34,000 jobs to Arizona’s economy. Nationally, BLM contributes $130 billion and supports 600,000 jobs.
That US citizens misunderstand Federal roles and responsibilities, and that the value of Federal lands is unknown, demonstrates a need that Justice O’Connor is championing: schools need to reintroduce civics to the classroom.