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Mon, Aug. 03

State reps visit forest demo plot<br>

Arizona Repub-lican State Senator Marilyn Jarrett, left, and Repub-lican State Senate President Ken Bennett, middle, absorb details of local forest thinning efforts and needs as told by Williams City Manager Dennis Wells during a July 23 visit to the area.

Thanks to the efforts of the Coconino Rural Environmental Corps, one section of the 12-acre plot had been cleared to demonstrate how it looked before man’s influence, with only about 40-60 large-diameter trees per acre. Another section was half-cleared to reflect a medium difference, and one section was left alone to illustrate present forest density, which reaches more than 2,000 trees per acre in some areas.

“We’re here to remind Arizonans — and the rest of the country — that the president understands the unique needs of the southwest,” Bennett said.

In August 2003, Bennett and Arizona House Speaker Jake Flake created the Joint Legislative Healthy Forest Task Force, on which Jarrett was appointed co-chairperson. Though Jarrett currently lives in and serves the community of Mesa, she grew up in Snowflake and understands the situation surrounding today’s forests.

Shortly after, in May 2003, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano created the Forest Health Oversight Council, which issued the following state recommendations for forest health:

• Requiring the state to adopt a wildland/urban interface code to provide community protection.

• Allowing counties to regulate lot splits to ensure adequate infrastructure.

• Providing tax credits for individuals and businesses that install and use wood pellets and wood products for heating.

• Elevating the State Forester to a cabinet level position and providing funding for additional efforts by the State Forester.

Just recently in June, Napolitano signed into law Arizona’s own version of Bush’s forest restoration bill — HB2549, the healthy forest pilot program. The bill focuses on providing tax incentives to timber companies in an effort to bring in private industry, a method many see as the only real course for the much-needed thinning of the southwest’s overcrowded forests.

Bush’s forest restoration act allocates well over $700 million to the cause, but that funding will be used mainly for administration costs. The price of treating or clearing just one acre of dense forest can be anywhere from $600-$1,000. Multiply that by the millions of acres of dangerously overgrown forest in need of clearing and the price tag jumps into the tens of billions, or 80-300 times what the federal government can treat annually. With private industry, proponents say the cost of forest thinning is paid for by the companies themselves, instead of taxpayer dollars.

Bennett said that already, two companies have expressed interest in Prescott-area forests. At the same time, Louisiana-Pacific may want to do something in the White Mountains, and there have even been inquires from businesses interested in leftover clearing piles, not to mention the proposed small-diameter sawmill that still has yet to be constructed in Bellemont.

Opponents to the state bill argue that it doesn’t limit timber companies to using only small-diameter trees — the type of material that needs to be cleared most. Jarrett counters, however, saying that timber companies need to be able to clear out the dead and/or dying large-diameter trees as well as the small. Additionally, the implementation of federally overseen stewardship contracts and the upcoming formation of an oversight committee will regulate what timber and how much the private companies can use.

“I think what we need to do is focus on what we are leaving behind — a healthy forest,” said Jarrett, who feels opponents are simply trying to divert people’s attention.

Though the State’s Joint Legislative Healthy Forest Task Force was a bipartisan committee, both Jarrett and Bennett warned that a change-over in presidencies could mean a halt to the healthy forest effort.

That may or may not be true. If Kerry were elected, the Massachusetts Democrat could choose to do nothing and leave the plan as it is, or he could try to implement his own version — a bill that takes subsidy funding away from current logging companies and puts it to use for forest restoration. Many, including Arizona Democratic District 1 congressional candidate Paul Babbitt, admit Kerry’s proposal is basically a duplication or at least supplemental to the Healthy Forest Restoration Act already signed into law in 2003.

For more information on the State’s healthy forest pilot program, log on to www.azleg.state.az.us, then search for the bill labeled HB2549.

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