Flooding the Sistine Chapel

Once in a while, I come out of hiding to post here at my old haunt. It has to be something big, however.

There are plenty of policy outrages that have happened in this legislature so far, the evisceration of our education system being the undisputed number one on the list. It is something else, though, that is the best illustration that the crew running the place care more about ideological wins and short term profits than Arizona as a place.

Darin Mitchell has introduced HB 2570, which would limit the ability of local government to regulate landscaping. It may seem a minor point, but these are the rules that protect our iconic saguaros.

The Arizona Republic cites a variety of rules in the Phoenix area that protect native plants, but we in Tucson have the native plant ordinance as well. It mandates that developers (including the city itself) have to replace plants that are taken out for development. The city also partners with Tucson Electric Power for the Trees for Tucson program, which puts up native trees to increase our natural canopy. The growth in our natural canopy (planting non-native palm trees has only a negligible effect on it) has can lower power bills, mitigate flooding and even make it more pleasant to walk to the store on a July day.

Still, most of the attention of this bill has focused on protections for a non-shade plant: the saguaro. Yes, having to pull them out and move them, or having to “mitigate” them is a pain in the nalgas for builders. But, think for a second why people move to Arizona. Let me give you an example. Here is the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau web page:

Scottsdale Screenshot

See that? Saguaros, saguaros, saguaros. You notice what you don’t see? Tract homes, strip malls and parking lots. Funny that.

By the way, that’s from a city that’s on the edge of the saguaro’s range. Still, the saguaro is so identified with our Southwestern deserts that they feature them. For years, we had a problem with Las Vegas cactus-napping saguaros because they wanted in on the action too. They are what makes us look different than suburbs in Orange County, Dallas or Denver.

These rules aren’t just there to protect the saguaro, but also exist to protect the broader environment and save water. Non-native plants tend to be higher water use, thus harder to maintain. I’d bet that the property managers that have to keep up landscapes for all those subdivisions that Mitchell is building would appreciate not having to maintain a conifer forest out in some tract of desert. Non-native plants can also cause other problems. The amount of money and labor both governments and property owners have had to spend on controlling buffel grass is a testament to that.

Most importantly, we live in a desert with sparse water resources. It’s taken decades, but we are finally getting both a local government and business culture that understand the challenges we face. We are in a unique place, and our policy needs to reflect that.

If you think that saguaros and the laws that protect them are a nuisance, I gotta wonder if you understand what it means to live in Arizona and whether you really give a damn about this place.