Counties, Forest Service Reach Forest Agreement

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When U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton put ink to paper last week, Gila County District One Supervisor Ron Christensen said, a "major step forward" was taken in defining the roles that local, state and federal governments have in the management and protection of the nation's public lands.

Appearing at the National Association of Counties Annual Conference in New Orleans, Secretary Norton and NACo President Javier Gonzales co-signed a memorandum that establishes a unique partnership designed to improve stewardship of public lands and gateway counties and communities where there are common interests in working together.

"We share mutual goals in the stewardship of America's public lands," Secretary Norton said. "NACo and its member counties are our neighbors, and by working together as partners, we can improve the management of our lands."

Christensen said he thinks that's just what the signed memorandum will accomplish over time.

"This is a major step forward in developing cooperation and collaboration between county government and the various federal agencies in regard to management of the forest and wildlife," Christensen said after his return from the NACo conference. "The hope is that it gets everyone on the same page at the same time so we don't have these enormous delays caused by some of the more radical (environmentalist) groups like the Forest Guardians and the Sierra Club and some of their subsidiaries that oppose everything. Then it ends up in the 9th Circuit and some judge in San Francisco makes a decision about our way of life out here that is so negative to our economy and our resources."

It is those types of actions that have led to the current condition of the nation's forests, which are so subject to catastrophic fire, Christensen said.

"This (agreement), I'm sure, will go a long way toward streamlining the whole process of forest management," he said.

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