PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona voters on Tuesday defeated a ballot measure contesting ownership of the Grand Canyon and other federal lands in the state, handing another defeat to the “sagebrush revolt” by Republicans in Western states.
Proposition 120, which lost by a 2-to-1 margin, would have amended the state’s constitution to declare Arizona’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the “air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries.”
Republicans argued that federal retention of the land hurts the economy of the Western states and leaves them struggling to fund public education, nurture their economies and manage their forests and natural resources.
Opponents, including the Sierra Club, said the measure was unconstitutional and would have saddled Arizona with lands it could not afford to maintain.
“I‘m not surprised because the people of Arizona support public lands. The legislature has been consistently out of step with that,” Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, told the Arizona Republic newspaper.
The Sierra Club pegged the area targeted by the measure at between 39,000 and 46,700 square miles (101,000 and 121,000 square km) - or 34 percent to 41 percent of the entire state.
The initiative was the latest move in a decades-old federal-state skirmish over control of a wide range of natural resources in Western states, often pitting mining, drilling and logging companies against those seeking to protect the environment.
The efforts have had mixed success. In May, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a state bill calling on Washington to relinquish the title to 48,000 square miles (124,000 square km), arguing that it created uncertainty for existing leaseholders on federal lands in difficult economic times.
But similar legislation was signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert in neighboring Utah in March, despite warnings from state attorneys that it was likely unconstitutional and would trigger a costly and ultimately futile legal battle.
Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney