TUCSON- In the wake of rapid growth and disappearing wild lands across the United States and in Arizona especially, supporters and stakeholders are celebrating Rep. Raúl Grijalva's (D-Dist. 7) official legislation for the Tumacacori Highlands (H.R. 3287) that will permanently protect approximately 85,000 acres of rolling hills, rugged canyons, and rare species habitat as federal wilderness on the Coronado National Forest. The area is just an hour's drive south from approximately 1 million people in metropolitan Tucson.
With the public lands protection legacy of Rep. Morris K. Udall guiding him, Rep. Grijalva addresses broad constituent concerns in his bill which, when passed, will be the first wilderness area protected by Congress in Arizona since the bipartisan work of Mo Udall and John McCain led to enactment of the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act seventeen years ago. The much-anticipated legislation calls for permanent protection for the Highlands-home to subtropical species like the jaguar, elegant trogon, and Chiricahua leopard frog that are found nowhere else in the United States. The Tumacacori Highlands are part of the world renowned Sky Island bioregion-a global biodiversity "hotspot" that supports the highest diversity levels of mammals, birds, and reptiles in our nation. The bill would also preserve the sweeping views from Atascosa Lookout, culturally significant sites, and numerous archaeological areas within the Highlands.
Rep. Grijalva and his staff have worked collaboratively for more than 4 years with a diverse array of stakeholders who support the legislation, including the Arizona Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Tubac Chamber of Commerce and more than 120 local businesses, 7 homeowner's associations representing 1,300-plus homeowners from the Green Valley area, the Arizona Ecumenical Council, scientists from area universities, former agency law enforcement officers, and Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. In addition to the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Sky Island Alliance, and Friends of the Tumacacori Highlands, diverse local conservation groups supporting the bill are the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, the Arizona Native Plant Society, Tucson Herpetological Society, Tucson Audubon Society, and the Rincon group of the Sierra Club.
"The Tubac Area Chamber of Commerce, representing more than 120 businesses, voted unanimously to support the wilderness designation because it will encourage our community to grow sustainably and enhance our outstanding quality of life here in southern Arizona," says Carol Cullen, president of the Tubac Chamber of Commerce. "Rep. Grijalva has just made our job as entrepreneurs a little easier with this legislation that protects one of our finest natural amenities."
A 2005 study by the Sonoran Institute demonstrates that protected, wild public lands such as the Tumacacori Highlands draw people who want to live and work in rural areas, which leads to vibrant economies and higher paying jobs.
"Enhancing the quality of life in Southern Arizona results from supporting projects like the Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness," says Green Valley resident Bud Haynes, who helped secure support from seven different homeowners' associations in his community. "I can't think of a better way to demonstrate to the rest of the county why retirement living here is so special. We live in this part of Arizona because outdoor recreational opportunities like the Tumacacori Highlands drew us here, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Rep. Grijalva for his leadership and vision of protecting the places we love."
The Highlands are rated as excellent habitat for hunting white tailed deer in Arizona. Primitive backcountry areas preserved by the bill will offer hunters some of the best secluded and quiet hunting opportunities left in Arizona. As a result of consultation with local hunting groups, the boundary lines were drawn to ensure a wide array of roadside access points in the backcountry that will allow sportsmen to get close to prime hunting habitat for ease of game retrieval.
"I hunt in wilderness because it's a bit of a rarity these days," says Rod Mondt, member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and a Tucson resident. "The Tumacacori Highlands Wilderness bill allows me the access I need to the area without destroying why I'm there in the first place, which is the game habitat."
"This bill will give future generations the opportunity to enjoy what present and past generations have in this area: discovery of hidden canyons, pools and streams in the desert, unmatched mountaintop views, the thrill of finding ancient pictographs under a ledge or in a cave, the excitement of spotting wildlife, the stirring feeling of being in wilderness, and more." says Nogales resident and teacher David Courtland. Courtland accompanied a group of fellow Arizonans to Washington, D.C., to support the Tumacacori Highlands proposal before the Arizona congressional delegation.
"As designated wilderness, the Tumacacori Highlands will continue to pay large dividends towards the character, integrity, and beauty of our nation's natural heritage," says Matt Skroch, executive director of Sky Island Alliance, based in Tucson. "Rep. Grijalva and committed stakeholders have been working tirelessly on this proposal and we applaud the congressman for his foresight and determination in saving one of the last wild corners of Arizona."