Now, we love to bash the federal government as much as anyone.
All you’ve got to do is say — “Forest Service appraiser” or “direct sale” or “environmental assessment” or even “Four Forest Restoration Initiative,” and we commence to get this ringing in our ears and a sick, spinning feeling in our gut.
No doubt about it: The federal government spends a bunch of money and can choke a mastodon with red tape. Heck, that’s probably why we don’t have woolly mammoths any longer.
So, certain folks have been jumping and gesticulating saying we oughta seize control of federal lands, so we can clean up the forests, reduce the fire danger, pay for our schools and just generally live happy and free — under the tender care of the state Legislature.
Matter of fact — our own representatives in that self-same state Legislature have been on the frothing front line of the movement to fan the fickle flames of rebellion against the federal tyranny. So they put their billfolds behind their fervent plea for state control, Rep. Brenda Barton, Rep. Bob Thorpe and Sen. Chester Crandell — whose district includes Northern Gila County — introduced a modest bill to appropriate $30 million to pay for some thinning projects on state lands.
Now, $30 million ain’t much for the millions of acres on which hundreds of communities face dire dangers from fire. But, heck: It’s something.
The bill came in the terrible shadow of the Yarnell Fire, which started on state lands, killed 19 Prescott firefighters and devastated the community of Yarnell. An independent investigation faulted the State Division of Forestry’s management of that fire, which led to the tragic deaths of those 19 magnificent firefighters.
So the $30 million was surely too little too late — but it gave us hope the state had finally bestirred itself to take some responsibility for the overgrown, unhealthy, disaster-ready condition of forested state lands.
Guess again. The House stripped out even that modest investment in managing dangerously overgrown state lands. Compare that to the diligent efforts of the Payson Ranger District’s expenditure of $14 million to create thinned buffer zones on the federal lands that surrounded Rim Country communities — that’s half as much as the Legislature couldn’t afford for the entire state.
So, please, guys: Don’t offer any more lectures on federal indifference and irresponsibility until you can demonstrate that the state of Arizona can take care of the land it already owns.