Rim Country 'A New Orleans Waiting To Happen,' Senator Says

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An entourage of federal and state politicians, along with Rim Country notables, gathered for a round table discussion of the Healthy Forest Initiative Feb. 4 at Gila Community College.

United States Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and state Sen. Jake Flake heard Gila County Supervisor Tommie Cline Martin and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the town council and local fire officials weigh in on the acute regional need for wildfire fuels maintenance.

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Sen. Jake Flake

"Nobody is more aware of this or more passionate than myself," Flake said. "We have to have more dollars for more stewardship; we have a New Orleans disaster waiting to happen."

In 2003, President George Bush signed the Healthy Forest Initiative. The legislation cleared the way for local and federal agencies to manage fire dangers in their districts, while attempting to mitigate the lawsuits and injunctions that hamper cleanup efforts.

"(The law) is not as good as it was touted to be," Kyl said. "(But) the law is not a total waste. We know what needs to be done."

The Healthy Forest Initiative requires forest districts to conduct extensive environmental impact and archeological studies before thinning can start. As an extra layer of protection, the Rim Country participates in the Firewise program, a coalition of federal and local agencies that work with high-risk communities.

Firewise takes a proactive approach by dispensing education and encouraging personal responsibility--steps people and communities can take to minimize wildfire hazards.

Nevertheless, Martin said it's not enough. Northern Gila County needs funding to control the accumulation of dry vegetation from forest thinning and the flammable forest undergrowth that surrounds 88 communities in the Rim Country.

"We're just not getting the attention we need. We live in fear around here," Martin said. "The Forest Service has a good 50,000 acres ready to go, but there is no funding to make it happen. I don't think there is an issue up here more important and more urgent than healthy forests."

Kyl said his efforts to raise the estimated $5 million the Forest Service needs to temper the immediate wildfire danger are hampered by political bureaucracy; however, he urged residents to lobby state and federal legislators.

Earlier in the day, Kyl, and his wife Caryll, joined Secretary of State Jan Brewer, Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer, and Payson residents Ken O'Dell and Jim White at the head table during the Gila County Republican committee's annual luncheon.

Attorney general candidate Bill Montgomery, and gubernatorial contenders, Jan Smith Florez, Don Goldwater and Len Munsil mingled with the crowd of 160 community members and local politicians, too.

Kyl quoted Abraham Lincoln as he urged Americans to support U.S. troops in Iraq; Jan Brewer, punctuating her address with hand gestures, rallied local community members to get involved and vote.

Contact Arizona legislators about wildfire urgency:

Sen. Jon Kyl

730 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

or

2200 E. Camelback, Ste. 120,

Phoenix, AZ 85016

Phone: (602) 840-1891

Sen. John McCain

730 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

or

5353 N. 16th St., Ste. 105

Phoenix, AZ 85016

Phone: (602) 952-2410

Rep. Rick Renzi

418 Cannon

House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515-0301

or

Flagstaff

123 N. San Francisco St., Ste. 105

Flagstaff, AZ 86001

Phone: (928) 213-3434

Sen. Jake Flake

Senate

1700 W. Washington, Room 307

Phoenix, AZ 85007

E-mail: jflake@azleg.gov

Rep. Bill Konopnicki (Room 303)

Rep. Jack Brown (Room 339)

House of Representatives

1700 W. Washington

Phoenix, AZ 85007

E-mail: jbrown@azleg.gov

E-Mail: bkonopnicki@azleg.gov

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