Forest fires are the single biggest threat to Gila County, said Gila County District 1 Supervisor Tommie Martin.
She has spent much of the past four years working to build communication between agencies that would respond to a fire -- the Forest Service and fire departments countywide -- and lobbying to change the way forests are managed.
For Martin, who is running as a Republican to retain her supervisor seat, well-managed forests would help fix water problems, economic problems and lessen the threat of a devastating blaze.
Yet, for all her work, Martin says she's not done yet. "We are still very fire vulnerable," she said.
Forest densities have thickened considerably over the past century. Land that once sustained three to 30 trees per acre now averages 300 trees per acre. According to Martin, the number increases to 3,000 trees per acre in some spots.
"We have this brush jungle," she said. "In the last 100 years, we have gone from health, function and productivity to dead and dying by any measure."
Dead and dying trees are nothing but a fire hazard, Martin said.
"Most of us have our nest egg wrapped up in our home." And with the majority of land in Gila County covered in forest, the amount of taxable land is negligible.
"If we were to burn, it would bankrupt this county," Martin said. The plethora of trees soak up too much water, exacerbating droughts. Responsible harvesting could not only reduce fuel for fire, but create industry and jobs for the county.
Martin's efforts have led to roughly 25 water (fire) tanks strategically placed around the county. Focusing on collaboration, she instigated conversation among responding agencies.
"They didn't even know each other's names," when first meeting, Martin said. Personnel from different departments weren't acquainted, but more seriously, their trucks couldn't share water because each department's trucks had its own fittings.
When hooking into a water tank, for instance, the fittings needed to be compatible. Martin changed that.
Collaboration, she says, is essential to responsible management.
"I think that we have to implement an adaptive management concept that is collaborative," Martin said. "You let the land dictate the management."
She believes the federal government's way of managing the forests equates to failed policy.
"We came out of Northern Europe into this environment," Martin said, and forests here are managed as if rain falls in the same patterns. In Arizona, debris on forest floors does not decompose because the floor is much drier.
Historically, fires cleansed the forest, but "100 years ago we decided we weren't going to burn the forest anymore," Martin said. "And that was the way it was going to be."
In those days, timber harvesting removed much of the fuel, but the area was viewed as a natural bank to deplete and leave. Natural resources were viewed as wealth, whereas now money is. "Money is not wealth," Martin said.
She advocates responsible resource extraction, and recognizing the surrounding area for the gems it offers. "These are our acres of diamonds," she said.
Martin also wants to more closely examine the county's water supply. "To count on Blue Ridge water as being the saving grace of Payson without addressing the health of the watershed that feeds that lake puts us in a horrendously vulnerable position."
She thinks the area's relationship with water needs altering, and advocates saving water runoff from roofs, for example, for irrigation.
Regarding some constituents' desires for more county services in Payson, Martin noted that an entire county campus sits on the county's north end.
"Tell me the last time you went to Globe for a service," she said. "We're the most duplicated county in Arizona." Offices including the county attorney and planning and zoning have administrative offices in Payson.
Martin listed other accomplishments during her four years in office --pgrading the shooting range, building synergy among divergent groups, and facilitating meetings for mayors and councils from around the county to meet.
"If they think these are important issues, then what they've got in me is someone who has some pretty strong relationships with the Forest Service, with Congress, to help continue this work," Martin said.
"If you vote for me you get the synergy of the past four years segueing into the next four."