Arizona to vote on taking control of Grand Canyon

FILE: August 10, 2012: Overall view from the south Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river near Tusayan, Arizona.

FILE: August 10, 2012: Overall view from the south Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river near Tusayan, Arizona.  (REUTERS)

Arizona voters have a big decision to make this November. Really big. 

Arizonans will vote next month on a ballot proposal to give the state control over the Grand Canyon – the latest move in the so-called “sagebrush revolt” in which western states are trying to reclaim federal land.

The issue was put on the ballot after the proposal passed the Republican-controlled legislature. It would amend the state constitution to give Arizona sovereignty and jurisdiction over not just the Grand Canyon but all the "air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources” within its boundaries. 

The 227-mile-long canyon is the most iconic landmark under that category, though the bill encompasses millions of federal acres, excluding Indian reservations and military installations.  

The decades-long "sagebrush" movement recently got new life when several western states argued the federal government has blocked oil drilling on public land and demanded Washington return millions of acres to state control. 

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, a Republican, has already signed a law asking the Obama administration to return 20 million acres, which could be used to develop oil and other natural resources to bolster the state economy.

Arizona state Sen. Sylvia Allen argues in support of the measure by saying the federal government has failed to keep a promise to western states to turn over the land, limiting their ability to attract new businesses that create jobs and collect taxes to fund education and other public services.

"Our states are at an extreme disadvantage,” the Republican lawmaker said Tuesday.

Keep tabs on the candidates in the Arizona state races on FoxNews.com

Allen and other supporters also point to North Dakota where the recent development of oil and natural gas has resulted in a booming state economy, with one of the country's lowest unemployment rates.

However, the bill, which would amend the state constitution, also poses a likely legal battle for a state that recently fought one over immigration. Arizona’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration in the absence of comprehensive federal law made its way to the Supreme Court, which struck down key parts of the law. 

The likely outcome of the federal lands measure remains unclear. Gov. Jan Brewer recently vetoed a smaller-scale state bill, but in this case voters could have the final say. If it's approved, the push would still need congressional support to get anywhere -- and would almost assuredly result in constitutional challenges and opposition from environmental groups that argue Arizona can barely take care of state land and the change could undermine such essential federal regulations as the Clean Water Act.

"They can't even fund and ensure that their (state) parks are protected, so how they would take on an additional 25 to 30 million acres of land is a big question mark," Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, told Reuters.

Allen said the state is capable of handling the land and that the group -- with its costly, time-consuming lawsuits -- helps neither the environment nor the economy.

“I’ve never seen the Sierra Club come out and clean up after a wildfire,” she said. “I live here. And to say I want to destroy the land is ridiculous.”