New Eco Director Looks For Viable Uses For Forest Lumber

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The Eastern Arizona Counties Organization and its nonprofit corporation, Environmental Economic Counties Organization have a new executive director, Larry K. Stephenson, of Payson.

Stephenson, who is also on the board of directors for the Gila County Community College, was hired by the county group's board in May. He is currently moving the office from St. Johns to Payson.

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Larry K. Stephenson

The board of the ECO includes a representative from the boards of supervisors from Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Apache and Navajo counties, Stephenson explained. Through intergovernmental agreements, the five counties banded together in the 1990s to focus on common concerns with the vast amount of public land within their boundaries. Later the group created the nonprofit environmental entity in order to seek grants not available to governmental agencies.

Tommie Martin is Gila County's representative to the board. She said it is her hope with Stephenson working in Payson -- the office is in Bonanza Square, across from the post office -- that some of the funds being targeted by the group can come into this area for forest health.

His predecessor, Martin Moore, left in September for a county manager's job in New Mexico.

One of the of the group's primary efforts is to find economically viable uses for the small diameter lumber that needs to be cleared from the forest to improve its health and reduce fire hazards, Stephenson said.

Among the uses he would like to see expanded: The manufacture of fuel for pellet stoves, pallet construction and small biomass projects that use the harvested trees to produce power.

Stephenson is a native of Seattle, Wash. but has lived in Arizona -- off and on -- since 1949.

Prior to joining ECO/EECO, Stephenson worked for the Gila River Indian Community (1992 to 2006) as an economic development planner.

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