Forest Health Council examines bills that seek more state control over federal lands

Forest Health Council examines bills that seek more state control over federal lands

15 March 2012

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USA — After reviewing state legislative bills that include a proposal to sue the federal government for wildfire damage and another to make the state forester the top incident commander on all wildfires in the state, the Arizona Forest Health Council agreed Thursday to become more involved in state legislation.

The council formed a subcommittee to submit pros and cons about legislation to the governor, since the governor’s office created the council after a Forest Health Summit at the first Arizona Wildfire Academy. Gov. Jan Brewer re-authorized the council in 2009 and asked it to advise her.

The council met Thursday at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University during the Arizona Wildfire and Incident Management Academy, something it usually does each year during the academy.

Council members said they hadn’t commented on legislation for years. Members include federal, state and local government officials, as well as private stakeholders and forest management experts.

The council was careful to avoid directly criticizing legislation, although some members wondered how the proposed $250,000 appropriation in Senate Bill 1231 could begin to cover a lawsuit against the federal government.

Arizona Senate President Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, is a prime sponsor of that bill. The Senate and a House committee have approved it. The bill appropriates the $250,000 to the Arizona Attorney General to sue the U.S. Forest Service, alleging destruction of endangered species habitat in Arizona because of a lack of forest thinning.

House Bill 2458 didn’t make it out of the House. It didn’t include any appropriations for the forester to be the primary commander on fires on lands that include federal lands. Sen. Judy Burges (then a representative for District 4 that includes southern Yavapai County), R-Skull Valley, was a prime sponsor of the bill, and Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, was a co-sponsor.

The Forest Health Council actively supports at least one piece of legislation, House Bill 2332. It extends existing tax incentives for healthy forest enterprises through 2024. It also creates new income tax credits for training new workers in ecological restoration.

Fann, House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, and Rep. Jack Harper, R-Surprise (representing District 4) all supported HB2332.

Council members noted that the Legislature has proposed numerous bills related to forest health.

They also noted that the governor plans to highlight forest health issues in April.

“This is a solvable problem,” said Diane Vosick of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, referring to the need to restore forests to health. “We’re just not doing it at the pace and scale we need to.”

Others noted the high cost of the restoration work and limited available money.

The council also reviewed a variety of collaborative forest restoration projects occurring throughout Arizona.

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