Move Forward With 4-Forests

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Arizona House members Brenda Barton and Chester Crandell, who represent Rim Country, this week co-chaired a hearing on wildfires. The witnesses included only Congressman Paul Gosar and a representative from the Arizona Cattlegrowers Association.

Gosar expressed support for the 4-Forests Restoration Initiative, a visionary alliance involving environmentalists, timber companies and local officials aimed at turning trees into wood products and energy. Gosar pointed out that 4-FRI offers the best hope of returning the overgrown forest to more natural conditions, which will eliminate the enormously destructive crown fires that have become the frightening norm.

Gosar’s support in Congress can play a vital role in thinning the bureaucratic thickets that now entangle the plan to reduce tree densities across much of northern Arizona.

Gosar did used some of his testimony to criticize “radical environmentalists” for filing lawsuits that played a role in shutting down the timber industry here.

Certainly, the years of bitter conflict and legal wrangling between one-sided environmental groups and the Forest Service played a role in the policy paralysis. The environmentalist filed one lawsuit after another tying up the process to protect endangered species and the last stands of old growth trees. The Forest Service resisted doggedly — and lost many of these lawsuits. The Forest Service usually ended up paying the legal fees of its adversaries.

Gosar condemned the “radical” environmentalists and vowed to introduce legislation to prevent judges from awarding legal fees to groups that successfully sue to make the federal government enforce its own laws. We hope he can get legislation that limits the power of federal agencies to create rules that were not part of the legislation approved by Congress, but were put in by a various agency. Businesses across the economic spector face unmanageable rules and regulations that inhibit employment and keep many businesses on the edge of their collective seat. Some are good, many are not.

The 4-forest initiative can be a groundbreaking effort with environmental groups joining with timber industry representatives, Northern Arizona University researchers and local officials like Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin. The group spent two years hammering out a consensus that will guarantee timber companies long-term contracts and an ample supply of wood — but mostly leave intact the 16-inch diameter trees on which a healthy forest ecosystem must depend.

The hard-won agreement offers the best hope in a generation that we can restore our forests to a healthy, sustainable condition. We hope Rep. Gosar will focus on that opportunity, rather than return to the bitter legal logjams of the past and at the same time introduce appropriate legislation in Congress that restricts bureaucratic rulemaking.

School board: Don’t get hooked on fees

You got a compound fracture — go ahead and take painkillers. But soon as you stop bleeding and get the bone set — best give them up.

We hope that the Payson school board will take the same attitude toward the awful fees imposed on students who play sports or participate in other after-school activities. The board imposed the fees in the midst of a worsening financial crisis, which continued to threaten even core programs.

High school students must pay $200, with a family cap of $400. Middle school students pay $75, with a family cap of $150. The fees have raised about $60,000, with another $25,000 paid by parents and friends who attend the games. Unfortunately, those fees don’t quite cover the cost of the programs, when you include salaries for coaches and assorted supplies and transportation costs.

The impact of these fees suggest a participation decline in many sports. The number of kids participating in the high-visibility sports like football and basketball hasn’t declined much. However, the figures suggest a worrisome decline in the number of students going out for many of those less popular sports.

That’s terrible news. Participation in demanding after-school activities like soccer, wrestling, drama, debate, music, football, basketball and other challenges help students feel connected to their school — and to succeed in their lives. Clearly, these programs have a vital role to play in fulfilling the mission of the school district. That’s why it is a tragedy and an injustice to impose these fees, which must inevitably drive away many of the children who need these programs the most.

So we implore the school board to find a way to eliminate these fees and support a full, vital, creative, demanding range of sports and other after-school activities.

Swallow the hated medicine now if you must — but don’t get hooked.

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