This week, the Flagstaff City Council voted to support the conservation of forest land surrounding Walnut Canyon National Monument. But, as Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it would ultimately be up to Congress to officially safeguard the land.
Permanent protection of the area can only come through federal legislation. The council’s move follows a similar action taken by the Coconino County Board of Supervisors last year. The resolutions say more than 27,000 acres adjacent to Walnut Canyon should be excluded from future land swaps that could lead to commercial and residential development.
Celia Barotz is Flagstaff’s vice mayor and a longtime supporter of the area’s preservation.
“The objective of the citizens who have been working on this for so long was to ensure not only that the visitor experience to Walnut Canyon National Monument is protected, but also the lands around the area are actually protected in their own right from uses that would ultimately threaten the visitor experience,” Barotz says.
Barotz says the conservation area would protect archaeological sites and allow recreation like hunting, fishing and cycling to continue. But, the city and county resolutions are ultimately symbolic without Congressional support.
“Federal legislation that would ensure forever that they couldn’t be traded out is what we call the gold standard, and that is what the community has been searching for, arguing for, pleading for for many years,” Barotz says.
According to Barotz, local officials and citizens hope to meet with congressional representatives to try to secure support for a bill — something that could take years.