Plenary at TWS chapter meeting spotlights public lands issue

By Dana Kobilinsky

Black Canyon Trail in Arizona. ©Kevin Schraer

Transfer of federal public lands to state ownership is a hot-button issue in states like Arizona. Last year, Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed two bills that required the federal government to turn over public land to the state.

At the joint annual meeting of the Arizona and New Mexico State Chapters of The Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society earlier this month in Flagstaff, Arizona, a plenary session fostered a lively discussion on the state takeover of public lands and the importance of public lands for wildlife.

“A lot of college students aren’t aware of these issues,” said Jon Hanna, past president of the Arizona Chapter and the plenary coordinator. “They’re going to school to become biologists and it’s going to be a shock to them when they don’t have any place to work.”

Hanna said almost half of the meeting attendees were college students coming from surrounding universities such as the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

The plenary included seven speakers, some of which were in favor of the state transfer of public lands and some who were against it. Two key speakers who were for the transfer of public lands were Jennifer Fielder, a Montana State Senator, and American Lands Council Representative Brenda Barton.

Other speakers included Coconino County Supervisor Mandy Metzger, whose views fall in the middle. Another strong supporter of public lands who spoke at the plenary was Todd Leahy, the director of conservation at the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

The event, which also made front page of the Arizona Daily Sun, captured the attention of the attendees on this controversial topic. “They were enthralled with what the speakers had to say,” Hanna said.

However, Hanna worries some conservation groups are just going to sit back and watch what happens as this debate goes on.

He wants to see more outreach with conservation organizations to get them involved. “The other reason I wanted to have this plenary was to meet more conservation organizations and create a networking system and a united front,” he said.

You can watch the Feb. 5 plenary here.

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is an associate science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

Read more of Dana's articles.