Environmental groups and the lawsuits they bring were blasted Monday by top elected officials at a rally of about 200 people affected by the Rodeo-Chediski fire.
Rep. John Shadegg, RAriz., blamed "idiot, extremist environmentalists who just don’t get it," as he urged those who came down from the White Mountains to the state Capitol to press for reforms of federal environmental laws.
Shadegg and other Arizona congressmen have been pushing federal legislation that would curb lawsuits and streamline the process for conducting environmental assessments that often tie up forest health projects for years. He and other speakers decried a series of lawsuits brought by environmentalists that have blocked efforts to thin out overgrown forests for nearly a decade.
In January, the New Mexico-based Forest Conservation Council sued to block the U.S. Forest Service from harvesting trees killed by the Rodeo-Chediski fire, which destroyed 469,000 acres in the White Mountains last June.
"Who has filed one lawsuit that’s stopping us from logging the salvage timber in our forests?" Shadegg said during the rally. "Those same radical environmentalists. We simply have to stop them. We have to stop them for the health of our forests. We have to stop them for the economy of northern Arizona. We have to stop them because they are simply dead wrong."
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who grew up in the White Mountains and also spoke at the rally, has filed legislation that would exempt from lawsuits salvage and thinning projects in federal disaster areas hit by catastrophic wildfires.
John Talberth of the Forest Conservation Council said it is wrong to blame environmentalists for the destruction of the Rodeo-Chediski fire. The forests have been mismanaged through logging, grazing and fire suppression for the last century, he said.
There is also abundant scientific evidence that salvage timber logging in burned areas causes more environmental destruction by compacting sensitive soils and increasing erosion, he said.
"That’s just ludicrous and hardly worth even a comment," Talberth said of attempts to blame environmental groups. "These forests have been mismanaged for 100 years."
Kathy Gibson-Boatman, who grew up in the Heber area and now lives in Chandler, said, "Inaction is destroying healthy forests."