All of the lovers of the beautiful forests of the American West can rejoice. Our esteemed United States Forest Service has won another great victory against illegal, horrible, law-breaking individuals who had been occupying an infinitesimally small portion of the Tonto National Forest's 2.9 million acres.
And, horror of horrors, after wading through juniper scrub, they found a manicured garden, filled with squash, tomato and pumpkin plants, hand laid rock walls and goldfish ponds and a covered patio. And, who were these terrible individuals who scoffed at the rules and regulations of our esteemed Bruce Babbitt as they applied to government land? Tess Johnson, 51, and her 31-year-old son, Freddie Jones (who has the intellect of a 12-year-old). And, what other incriminating evidence did they discover when they conducted a weapons search. A slingshot that Freddie used to shoot the javelinas away from their garden.
The occupants of this illegally constructed garden and shelter were advised by two armed U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers that they had broken the law and must appear in court in Phoenix and be fined between $400 and $5,000 for desecrating the pristine forest. And that they must immediately remove all traces of the garden, rock walls and patio and haul back all of the boulders, dirt and dead tree limbs so that the area looked like it did before they defaced it with the improvements.
What a travesty. These people are homeless, do not accept government handouts, have a total weekly income of $30 to $50 earned by collecting aluminum cans and doing a little yard work. A far cry from a goodly number of our citizens who do not work and live on the dole, obtained from a city, county, state or federal government.
And now we should look at the U.S. Forest Service's problems from the top down, the Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
I don't think that any environmentalist would claim that the Forest Service past modus operandi has been completely successful in meeting all of their various demands but goodness knows they tried. And as a consequence, throughout the West the forests are burning and burning and turning millions of acres into ashes. And what is the response by our famous Secretary of the Interior when questioned by the media recently while he was in Colorado? "It's a campaign year and these charges are politically motivated."
Why doesn't he tell that to the many hundreds of homeowners who have lost not only their homes but all of their personal possessions as well. And look at the billions of dollars expended in attempting to control this monster.
Why did a goodly proportion of this devastation occur? Because the Forest Service and Bruce Babbitt complied with every demand of innumerable environmental organizations, large and small.
Do not cut down trees, large or small, leave the undergrowth, save the spotted owl and the willow fly catcher, the Uganda kob or some other animal or insect that no one has ever heard of, add infinitum. Remove the timber companies, make it impossible for new mines to be established and finally, remove all cattle from the forest and allow all growth to flourish and you have set the state for the devastating fires that are raging throughout the West.
So, we revert to the original problem for the Tonto National Forest to resolve. What should be done to these illegal occupants of our immaculate forest? Throw them in jail because they do not have any money to pay for fines imposed by a U.S. court?
Personally, I know who has done the most damage to all of our Western forests, and it certainly is not a 51-year-old woman and her handicapped son.
Cloyd Henline, Payson