PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill Tuesday requiring information gathered in state-sponsored endangered species surveys on private property to be kept secret, even from federal agencies charged with protecting plants and animals from potential extinction.
Republicans who pushed the proposal through the Legislature said the shield is needed to protect private property rights. Minority Democrats unsuccessfully argued that if the new policy becomes law it will hinder public monitoring of recovery plans for endangered plants and animals.
The bill was approved along party lines in the House and Senate.
The measure applies to information collected by state agencies, and violations would carry a $25,000 fine. The state would be barred from sharing information on what biologists find about endangered species publicly or with federal agencies charged with protecting endangered species through recovery plans.
Republican Rep. Gail Griffin sponsored the House measure and said during a committee hearing last month that the proposal would actually encourage private property owners to let surveyors onto their property. The opposite is true now because of fears any discovery could lead to land-use restrictions, she said.
“We want to entice property owners to assist in counting any specific species that might be on their property,” Griffin said. “Currently ... if I thought endangered species were on my property I’d have a ‘no trespassing’ sign on my property. So this is an enticement.”
The Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter director, Sandy Bahr, testified at that House hearing that information collected by public agencies doing surveys should always be public. She said making it secret would prevent any public monitoring of efforts to help species recover.
Bahr said Tuesday that she believes the new law is intended to help big developers whose projects could be delayed or halted if an endangered species is discovered on their property.
“Whenever they’re looking to not provide information to the public, it usually means they’re trying to hide something,” Bahr said. “And in the case of endangered species, it’s usually something that is not beneficial to the species or its recovery.”
A spokesman for Ducey did not respond to requests for comment on his reasons for signing the bill. It will be retroactive to Jan. 1.