Forest Thinning

Forest health a top priority for county supervisor

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Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin has been concerned with the health of Arizona forests for decades.

She realized long ago that the drought conditions plaguing much of Arizona, paired with the overcrowding in the forests, add up to a potentially catastrophic wildfire situation.

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Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin said she realized long ago that the drought conditions plaguing much of Arizona paired with the overcrowding in the forests add up to a potentially catastrophic wildfire situation. Martin believes government funding could be used to establish forest economies where thinning efforts produced profits, which in turn could help pay for its solution. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano recently revealed a plan that would provide upwards of $35 million dollars a year for the next three years to improve the health of Arizona's six forests. Area forest after thinning efforts.

Forests in the Southwest 150 years ago were up to several hundred times less dense than they are today, said Gary Roberts, fire prevention officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

Just as big of a problem, Martin said, is that the county receives no funding from the federal government unless there is a major wildfire.

Without funding, thinning efforts and forest revival plans are difficult to accomplish.

"My goal is to get national funding to come our direction--funding for the Tonto National Forest first, Arizona second and the West third," she said.

Martin said if government funding was used to establish forest economies where thinning efforts produced profits, the problem could help pay for its solution.

"I'm really trying to push change in thinking and funding," she said.

"Profits need to go to the restoration of the forest."

Martin said she understands how difficult it is to change the thinking regarding forest health.

"I'd like everyone to step back and look at our lands to see that they're dying," she said. "We're using urban and aesthetic values to dictate land management, to the detriment of the land. It's been that way for 100 years."

Martin recognizes the vast efforts and accomplishments of wildland firefighters and the Payson Ranger District in cutting back growth in the Rim Country forests in recent years. She said a bigger goal is to revive environmentally sensitive industry in Gila County.

"There is enough money in the economy to solve this problem," she said. "There is not enough money in the treasury. There are billions of dollars of attainable profit produced in these forests."

Government funding could provide a way to jumpstart the programs Martin has in mind.

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Same area plagued with overcrowding.

Gov. Janet Napolitano recently revealed a plan that would provide upwards of $35 million dollars a year for the next three years to improve the health of Arizona's six forests.

The plan, developed in conjunction with recommendations from the Forest Health Advisory Council and Forest Health Oversight Council, includes ways to promote and profit from the thinning of forestlands.

Martin said if Napolitano's plan is approved by the state and federal governments, she hopes that the funding would be used to create industry, as well as accomplish necessary thinning.

"That money needs to go into jumpstarting programs that are environmentally friendly and profitable," she said.

"Until the focus and intention is to do that, we're just whistling in the wind."

"My hope is that this money doesn't continue to be trapped in layers of governmentium and that it actually reaches the ground."

Martin has also been working with the staff of Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, in an effort to promote what she said is the "correct way of thinking about this."

Grijalva is the chairman of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee, a division of the Committee on Natural Resources within Congress.

"Everything I do is important to push the conversation to a new area of dialogue," she said.

"The most important thing we can do is shift the paradigm from a forest firefighting culture to a forest restoration culture."

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