Valley land preservation advocates are finding effective allies in national and regional conservation organizations working to expand their local presence.
The Trust for Public Land and the Sonoran Institute are delving into efforts that would aid the growth of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve and protect open desert on the fringes of the East Valley.
The 30-year-old nonprofit Trust for Public Land has helped secure about 1.5 million acres for preserves and parks throughout the country. It opened its first Arizona office last year, hiring Maria Baier, who worked on conservation issues for former governors Fife Symington and Jane Hull.
Baier recently coordinated the group’s project for Scottsdale’s preserve commission, a voter survey on a proposed city sales tax increase to fund more preserve land acquisition.
The organization anticipates a continuing role, possibly advising city leaders on crafting the ballot referendum or helping preservesupporters campaign for its passage, Baier said.
The Sonoran Institute opened an office in the north East Valley in September. Since it was founded in Tucson in 1990, the nonprofit has helped raise $42 million to preserve about 200,000 acres in six Western states and organize more than a dozen local conservation groups.
The institute is branching into the Valley primarily because of its new partnership with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which is supported by the Scottsdalebased Lincoln Foundation.
The two groups are part of a coalition working on reform that would pave the way to preserve some of the 9.3 million acres of state trust land.
"What happens to state trust lands is going to shape the future of Arizona,’’ said Andy Laurenzi, who heads the Sonoran Institute’s Valley operations.
Many of the larger swaths of undeveloped land in and around the Valley are state trust property. Scottsdale, Cave Creek and Phoenix are seeking to preserve more than 30,000 acres within their boundaries. The Superstition Area Land Trust wants to protect another 30,000 acres just beyond the East Valley.
Laurenzi said the Sonoran Institute also is talking to several groups, including the East Valley Partnership and Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute of Public Policy, about developing a concept for future use of open lands.
The master plan would identify state lands and other areas for either development or open-space preservation stretching from the Superstitions Mountains area east of Mesa to the San Tan Mountains near Queen Creek and into Pinal County, Laurenzi said.
Neither The Trust for Public Land nor the Sonoran Institute view their conservati on mission as antigrowth.
"We think there is a link between between openspace preservation and economic vitality. You can really see that in Scottsdale and the importance of its desert scenery to its tourism,’’ Baier said.
Land preservation in the Valley will continue to be a challenge "as long as we’ve got this rapidly urbanizing area and growth is this economic juggernaut,’’ Laurenzi said.