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Less than 1% of Arizona's General Fund needed to help safeguard state's environment, experts say

A large impact can be made towards protecting Arizona's land, water, and wildlife by diverting only 0.5% of the fund, Audubon Society and ASU researchers said.
Even the cacti love Arizona. Thanks to our Instagram friend @mynameishector for sharing this awesome photo from Four Peaks.

ARIZONA, USA — There are three billion fewer birds across the United States than there were in the 1970s, according to researchers at the National Audubon Society.

This trend has been especially noticeable in Arizona as climate change and human development continue, as the state has a very fragile resident and migrant bird population, the society said. Other large portions of Arizona's wildlife, vegetation, and water are also being placed at threat and will see great damage in the coming years.

Some of the most pressing dangers can be met by diverting some of Arizona's $11.76 billion General Fund towards environmentally-focused projects and programs, according to the National Audubon Society Southwest division's Policy Director Haley Paul.

In fact, only 0.5% would be needed to make serious change.

"Less than one percent of the state’s General Fund to prioritize all those critical things for water, birds, the environment, and people," Paul said. "Arizona's general fund is pretty healthy right now, and so we need to take a moment to invest in these places that matter to both birds and people."

What programs should Arizona invest in?

The budget reallocations were made clear in a recent article written by the society, which included:

  • $24 million to advance the Healthy Forests Initiative which will prevent catastrophic wildfires and improve watershed health.

  • $18 million for the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF) program to ensure contaminated groundwater sites are cleaned up to provide clean drinking water and agriculture water across Arizona.

  • $10 million for the Heritage Fund which will provide critical resources to Arizona’s local, regional, and state parks, trails, and open spaces.

  • $5 million to adequately fund the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) so that it can hire and keep talented professionals.

  • $2.9 million to support and advance the General Stream Adjudications to determine who has the right to how much water among the state’s rivers and streams such as the Gila, Little Colorado, Salt, and Verde.

  • $1 million for the Arizona Water Protection Fund, a competitive grant program which provides funding to projects that enhance and restore rivers and riparian habitat, and to projects that protect water quality and quantity.

Why the focus on water?

It may come as a surprise that the Audubon Society, which is known to advocate for birds, focuses much of its purposed fund reallocation on programs tied to water conservation and protection rather than directly on wildlife.

But, according to Paul, protecting Arizona's water is the first step to protecting the state's wildlife.

"Groundwater sustains a lot of habitat," Paul said. "If we don't have healthy groundwater supplies, we can't protect birds or other habitats, let alone people."

The focus on water sustainability, especially in a desert climate like much of Arizona has, is critical when it comes to providing for all life, whether it plant, animal, or human, according to Sarah Porter, the Director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute.

"Water is the limited resource in Arizona," Porter said. "If you have healthy watersheds, healthy wetlands, and healthy rivers, you tend to have a good habitat for birds and water resilience for people."

In fact, one of the programs with the smallest amounts of purposed reinvestment may be one of the most important, Porter said.

The General Stream Adjudications is a long-running lawsuit that has been tied up in Arizona's courts for the past 40 years. The outcome of the lawsuit will determine who has the rights to water claimed on the Gila and Little Colorado Rivers.

Conversation and environmental organizations, according to Porter, have no way to find solutions to climate issues as long as the lawsuit remains unfinished, because they aren't sure of which or how much water they have access to.

"Until we resolve the adjudications, there is no way to protect rivers and streams and ensure they continue to flow," Porter said. "If you want to have healthy habitat for birds and other wildlife, you need intact and flowing rivers and streams."

The reinvestment isn't just smart environmentally, it's also smart economically

Outdoor recreation in Arizona is a $13.5 billion industry and generates more money for the state than the mining or golf industries, according to a recent report. The industry also supplies and supports over 114,000 jobs for people in the state.

The Audubon Society kept this in mind when crafting its purposed fund reallocation. Framing the environment as both a place of natural splendor and as an economic powerhouse can help legislators understand how it's important, Paul said.

"The Arizona Legislature is a tough place to get environmental wins," Paul said. "But, we know that the state cares about economic activity associated with outdoor recreation and environmental tourism."

The purposed budget reallocation exists as a next step of the report, which was meant to serve as a resource for local officials to better understand the economic contributions waterways and the environment have on communities.

"We have an opportunity this year with all of the resources the state has received from the federal government," Paul said. "If we want to put our money where our mouth is and say we care about water, we need to empower these resources."

You can read the full Audubon Southwest's article here.

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