SIERRA VISTA — When Southwestern Communities Coalition (SWCC) unveiled the new, private non-profit organization in Benson, the members made it clear they were in favor of the Trump administration’s deregulation of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Conservation organizations seeking to control what happens on private and public lands to protect threatened and endangered species and ensure sustainable habitat, including an adequate water supply, would have to deal with the SWCC.

In looking into the nonprofit, the mission states it as “to promote thriving communities, sustainable growth, a strong economy, sound stewardship of natural resources and protection of property rights. Thriving communities rely on the sustained growth of a strong economy, judicious stewardship of natural resources and protection of property rights.”

Its supporters welcome help to improve a lagging economy.

In looking into SWCC, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) lists SWCC board members as Ed Gilligan, county administrator, Mike Reinbold, El Dorado Holdings, George Scott, executive director of Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group, John Ladd, Cochise County rancher, Jim Chilton, Arivaca rancher, and Toney King, Benson mayor.

Information about Gilligan’s part in SWCC as a board member was requested. He told the Herald/Review, “Your questions regarding the SWCC are best directed to the executive director or current board members. I am not a board member. Because the organization is a private, non-profit coalition, it’s meetings would not be open meetings nor would there be posted agendas. Its board members are unpaid citizen volunteers."

He concluded, “The Cochise County Board of Supervisors has not discussed the SWCC or taken any action to join or support the organization. No county funds support the organization.”

Brian Seasholes, executive director of the Southwestern Communities Coalition, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Waters, Oceans, and Wildlife on Sept. 24

He offered testimony on two bills under consideration: the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act of 2019, the purpose of which is to roll back reforms to the Endangered Species Act made by the Trump administration.

Seaholes said conservation of endangered and at risk species is “a very worthy goal. But, it has become increasingly contentious.”

Seasholes’ testimony focused on two facts that are crucial to successful endangered species conservation.

First, “Private landowners are the linchpin to endangered species conservation in America because they harbor the most species and habitat. Severty-eight percent of endangered species depend on private land for some or all of their habitat, compared to 50 percent on federal land.”

Second, “Surveys of landowners in 19 states reveal landowners prefer a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based approach to endangered species conservation rather than the Endangered Species Act’s penalty-based approach.”

He also said removing regulations on trophy hunting would help the “desperate poor” in developing countries as well as wildlife.

Seaholes has offered his expertise on issues of private property rights versus conservation enacted in the name of the ESA for the past 30 years.

He served as the executive director of the endangered species project with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian, nonpartisan public policy research organization. It seeks “truth via rational discourse, free inquiry and scientific method.”

He worked there for nearly five years and went on to work with Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) for six months as a policy fellow.

From there, he went on as a consultant and worked with the Utah State University with the Center for Growth and Opportunity, before starting his own consulting business.

He has been the executive director of SWCC since July 2019.

In 2003, Seaholes wrote in the Free Range Report, “America needs to have a broader discussion about how best to conserve endangered species, instead of being fixated on whether to amend or leave intact a piece of legislation. Conservation occurs on the ground, not in the halls of Congress.”

Since the 1990s, he has championed conservation through voluntary landowner efforts and has been outspoken when it comes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The comeback of the bald eagle in the U.S. was successful, yet the raptor was not delisted. He took issue with that in 2007.

His voice was heard locally with an opinion written for the Benson News-Sun paper in which he wrote, “Conservation is ill-served by lawsuits and tenuous arguments that look more like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what if anything sticks than sound conservation. Conservation is usually a difficult, long-term proposition that depends on creative problem solving and the good will of private and public sector actors.”

The Herald/Review recently asked Seasholes questions about the SWCC.

Herald/Review: How was the SWCC organized?

Brian Seasholes: The SWCC was formed by a diverse group of individuals, businesses, other coalitions and organizations that are all striving to create a better future for the Southwestern United States. The Coalition’s mission is to promote thriving communities, sustainable growth, a strong economy, sound stewardship of natural resources, and protection of property rights.

HR: How were board members selected?

BS: Board members were not selected. They came together as a meeting of the minds about the state of the economy in the region and other regions like it. Everyone seemed to be having the same problem, and the common thread was the “legal train wrecks” the Center for Biological Diversity’s of the world create to prohibit growth.

People with local and regional knowledge, experience, expertise, and environmental concern all had the desire to meet the objectives of the Southwestern Communities Coalition.

HR: By the way, our county administrator Ed Gilligan said he is not on the board of directors.

BS: Ed Gilligan and Toney King were founding members of the Coalition due to the concerns expressed in the previous answer. They wanted to show support for the Coalition and its concerns, concerns they both share from the county and city level. They are not board members.

HR: How many supporters does the SWCC have now?

BS: The SWCC is growing daily and has 16 member counties from across New Mexico and Arizona. The coalition also consists of hundreds of individual ranchers, farmers, residents, wine makers, industry leaders, local government, environmental organizations and others who are backing sustainable economic development from all over the southwestern states.

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