Defensive Space Nothing To Get Defensive About

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What is it about the word "duck" that makes our town leaders come unglued?

It happened when a small but vocal minority went to the council to get some help protecting the ducks and geese at Green Valley Park a couple years ago.

Now it's happened again over the use of the word in a recent Roundup headline.

"Council ducks drought emergency extension" headlined a Dec. 30 story about an effort to get the council to extend the state of emergency declared last January because of the ongoing drought. Lew Levenson, executive director of the Arizona Partnership for Forest Health, made the request and pointed out that several northern Arizona communities have already enacted measures designed to protect their homes and businesses in the event of another forest fire on the scale of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.

Levenson's proposed measure would "establish appropriate defensive space to minimize damage to the Town of Payson as a consequence of the extraordinarily high risk of wildfire in the next several years."

To that end, it directs Town Manager Fred Carpenter to assure that "competent resources" are made available to the fire chief; to assure that all town departments meet defensive space criteria; to have a long-range plan in place by April 30; to gain the cooperation of abutting and nearby fire districts; and to request or require the cooperation of residents and businesses in meeting defensive space criteria.

Two councilors contacted on the issue corroborated what the Roundup reported -- that because it would involve some expenditure, they preferred the item not be dealt with until it could be considered in the context of the coming budget schedule.

A subsequent Roundup article on Jan. 6 reported on ordinances passed in Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside requiring residents to clean up their property. In that article, Gila County Extension Agent Chris Jones expressed his belief that Payson and surrounding communities need to do something similar -- and soon.

Mayor Ken Murphy and Carpenter took offense at the two stories. Carpenter said he was concerned that the council would look "anti-forest," while Murphy said that he sets the council agenda and no one came to him requesting the defensive spaces initiative be put on it.

We would respectfully ask Carpenter, Murphy and any other town leaders who feel similarly threatened to relax. We do not believe, nor did we mean to imply, that the town is anti-forest.

We understand that town resources need to be allocated carefully, and that many other projects and initiatives have to be considered as part of the budget mix. We further believe the town's decision to take up the matter as part of the budget process is just, well, "ducky."

But Levenson and Jones are right when they emphasize the very critical state of our forests due to ongoing drought and the bark beetle invasion.

The forest is vital to all of us. It's why we're here. It drives our economy.

We believe it is important to keep defensive space in the forefront, and we will continue to do so whenever appropriate. To do otherwise would be ducking the issue.

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