User Groups Unite To Fight Forest Abuse

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In every community, there is an underbelly -- a sordid side that can undermine the best intentions of the vast majority of good people.

One manifestation of Payson's underbelly was on display early Wednesday morning as a group of 30 or so people gathered on Forest Road 433 just off Highway 260 in Star Valley. In what should have been a pristine forest setting, they stood surrounded by a community's castoffs -- building supplies and old carpets, sofas and mattresses, tires and car parts, stoves and refrigerators.

The group had come to spend the day cleaning up somebody else's mess, not an uncommon occurrence in a world where a few will always refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

What was uncommon was the makeup of the group. The volunteers included people from the Rim Country 4 Wheelers, the Payson Horseman's Association, the Gila County Trails Alliance, and Tonto Rim Search and Rescue -- forest user groups that don't normally hang out together.

In fact this was the first time, according to Craig McMullen of Arizona Game and Fish and Walt Thole of the U.S. Forest Service, that these organizations have been brought together for such an endeavor -- at least in the Rim country. It's part of a greater effort by the two agencies to get a handle on the misuse and abuse of the forest that is such an integral part of life in the Rim country.

The cash-strapped Forest Service simply can't keep up, so Game and Fish is bringing much-needed funding to the effort. The state agency provided the dumpsters and equipment, and plans to provide money for other projects currently under way. Plans include more targeted enforcement efforts, such as remote surveillance with sophisticated cameras, and a new initiative to sign the roads and trails that are closed to motor vehicles.

While McMullen admits that it's nearly impossible to police such a large area, he also points out that it's a small minority that refuses to live by the rules.

The message he wants delivered to those few is simple -- a concerted effort is being made to bring together the people and the resources to make trashing the forest a much more risky venture.

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