FLAGSTAFF -- The interests and concerns of environmental groups have to be taken into account if Arizona and the nation are to find ways to improve forest health, Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday.
The governor's comments came after she toured the damage done by water which rushes off mountainside forest land following last year's Schultz fire. With a new season of monsoon rains, homeowners in the path of the runoff are again putting sandbags around their houses and Coconino County workers are rushing to finish new storm channels.
Brewer also acknowledged that the state already has spent the entire $5 million allocated in the budget year just ended fighting the major fires that erupted in several spots around the state.
The problem is that all the bills have not yet come in. That raises the possibility that Arizona will have to pay these out of the new $3 million allocation for the current fiscal year -- money that is supposed to last through next June 30, part-way into a whole new fire season.
Scott Hunt, the state forester, said it remains unclear right now whether that will be necessary.
Hunt said the state is eligible for federal grants that could cover 75 percent of all of the costs incurred for the largest fires. And he said that, with the total amount spent still to be determined, it will be some time before the state can get a check to replenish the fund.
"But our current estimates look like we're going to be OK,'' he said.
Brewer also sought to reassure residents of the subdivisions downgrade of the Shultz fire that their problems will not be forgotten in the wake of the more recent and much larger blazes this year.
"We are here today and we will be here tomorrow and we will be here into the future to do whatever the state can do,'' she said. "We will not let you people down.''
The governor's comments about environmental interests came after she noted that there has been some progress made in reaching agreements to "treat'' some areas of forest.
She specifically cited the Four Forests Initiative, which has the federal government partnering with private industry to thin trees on about 2.5 million acres in the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto national forests. And Brewer mentioned a 10-year project to treat about 150,000 acres in the White Mountains.
Brewer conceded that, in a state the size of Arizona, that may not be much.
"We are nibbling around the whole issue,'' she said.
"We're further ahead than we have ever been because we've got everybody at the table, everybody working together, trying to go in a direction that satisfies everyone,'' Brewer continued. "But now, given the situation and the circumstances, I think that there's a way, hopefully, that we can move quicker and faster because people realize that is something that absolutely has to be addressed.''
But the governor said that will not happen by one side trying to impose a solution.
"It's going to take all of us, on both sides of this issue, working together to get this resolved,'' the governor said. And that, she said, includes environmental groups whose agendas may be different.
"We all need to be at the table to determine how much can we agree to to save it going forward,'' Brewer said.
"I think we're all environmentalists, first of all,'' Brewer said. "I think we all care about our natural lands and the environment we live in and what we're going to leave our children.''
Her conciliatory stance toward environmental groups and their interests comes less than a month after a legislative committee on forest health where there was testimony critical of working with all of the environmental interests.
Freshman Congressman Paul Gosar said Arizona's timber industry disappeared, at least in part, because of "excessive litigation initiated by some extreme environmental groups.''
Gosar did say that some environmental groups -- he did not say which ones -- were in fact helpful in enacting both the Four Forests Initiative and the White Mountain contract. But he also is pushing to change the law to limit the amount these groups can collect in legal fees when they win lawsuits against federal agencies.
Andy Groseta, incoming president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, was even more blunt in his comments about "radical environmentalists,'' saying the only thing that talking with them has done is delay the kind of tree thinning and expanded cattle grazing he believes is necessary.
"They have had the past 10 years to collaborate,'' he told lawmakers. "It's time for the cows and the chainsaws.''