Supervisor Takes Funding Fight To D.C.

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Tommie Martin took her ongoing fight for forest health and safety to Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

She wanted to get Congressman Rick Renzi, Senator Jon Kyl and other members of the Arizona congressional delegation to hear her arguments for more funds to clean up the national forests in Gila County. While the trip was announced earlier this year, Martin wanted to wait until the timing was right -- when Congress was working on the budget for the 2006-2007 fiscal year.

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Gila County District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin, second from left, used the fire safety work the county has done in partnership with the Forest Service and Rim Country communities to show the Arizona Congressional delegation Gila County is not just asking for a handouts to fight fire hazards. Martin is pictured with Ira Gibel; right to left, Mike Brandt of the Pine/Strawberry Fire Department and Bob Ortlund, Tonto Basin Ranger District fire management officer.

"This is the most important thing to me right now," Martin said.

She said Renzi suggested $300 million be included in the House appropriations for the Forest Service fuels reduction project. "Because of how it was presented by Renzi, if it is approved, it is something the Forest Service can take or leave," Martin said. "I am trying to get Kyl to make it a hard earmark."

In addition to pushing for money in the 2006-2007 budget, which will not be available until after October, Martin also sought to latch onto any leftover funds there might be to get more work done this year.

"Kyl said he believed there was money available and if I put together a strategy, he would help me," Martin said. "I thought it was a long shot, but now there is a very good likelihood we can get something on the ground before October."

Her grand plan is to get the leftover 2006 money by the end of June and start making use of it by fall. Then she will push as hard as she can to get $2 million ushered through by Kyl for 2007.

But she won't stop there. Martin also wants to work with the Forest Service and Congress to get planning completed to jump-start the biomass industry in 2008. Martin believes there is enough usable forest fuels to make the biomass industries pay for forest restoration. She said she believes letting the lumber and livestock industries back into the national forests will help maintain (the forest ecosystem).

"There are billions of dollars locked up in our forests, the presence of which is choking the life out of the forest and turning it into a tinderbox," Martin said. "The profitable removal of that product (the unhealthy pine and brush) would not only return health and functioning to the forest, it would also significantly improve the economies of the communities within the forests. It is time we demanded healthy forests and healthy economies."

By showing the Arizona congressional delegation the amount of money the county has spent on firebreaks, Martin said, "What I'm telling Congress is we've decided to partner up. By the first of July we will have put about $1 million in new water sources, new water resources and firebreaks to fireproof us from a forest we shouldn't have to be afraid of -- (a forest that is) the result of 100 years of failed policy.

"We're not going to Washington with our hand out. We have our hand full of partnering dollars to keep us from burning down, and we must insist on help to get (the forest) cleaned out."

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