BENSON — The executive director of the newly-formed Southwest Communities Coalition unveiled in Benson testified before a Congressional subcommittee last week.
Brian Seasholes was called to testify Sept. 24 before a U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee on Waters, Oceans and Wildlife. The testimony centered around the Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act of 2019, regarding conservation of critically endangered species in foreign countries, and the Extinction Prevention Act, which concerns the conservation of certain butterflies, plants, mussels, and desert fish. Both bills are currently under consideration, according to an SWCC news release. Both bills are currently under consideration.
The coalition’s mission is “promoting thriving communities, sustainable growth, a strong economy, sound stewardship of natural resources, and protection of property rights. The SWCC’s members include ranchers, farmers, residents, wine makers, environmental organizations, and others who back sustainable economic development.”
The coalition was formed as a united voice and front for local and regional stakeholders to counter the litany of lawsuits filed by what the coalition calls “fake environmental groups” it claims are interested only in stopping all development at all costs, namely the Center for Biological Diversity and others groups who have filed suit regarding the Villages at Vigneto, El Dorado Holdings’ master-planned community.
While SWCC has stated it’s not solely advocating for any one particular development, the Villages, a 28,000 home master-planned community — built out over a 20-year period — on close to 13,000 acres of land just south of Interstate 10 and east of State Route 90 in Benson, has been repeatedly stalled by litigation.
The development, economists have said, would significantly transform the region’s sluggish economy to potentially rival that of Fort Huachuca.
“Private landowners are the linchpin to endangered species conservation in America because they harbor the most species and habitat,” Seasholes said. “Surveys show that when it comes to endangered species conservation, landowners prefer incentive-based approaches to penalty-based approaches, such as the Endangered Species Act.”
The testimony is a reiteration of what the coalition and its base of supporters said during a Sept. 18 luncheon in Benson held to announce the group’s formation before residents, government officials and some media members.
“The Coalition was formed for this exact purpose,” the SWCC said in a statement. “We want to disprove the idea that private landowners and the government must always be at odds when it comes to wildlife and habitat protection.”
“Seventy-eight percent of endangered species depend on private land for all or some of their habitat whereas only 50 percent of endangered species depend on federal land,” Seasholes said. “Congress must work with, not against, those private landowners to come up with the best solutions to protect endangered species.”