June 17, 2004
East Valley lawmakers are part of a state delegation in Washington, D.C., this week touting the state’s new forest health plan to their federal counterparts and President Bush’s administration.
The lawmakers are explaining how an Arizona law adopted last month can work with Bush’s Healthy Forest Initiative to reduce a congestion of trees that experts agree contributes to wildfire dangers. Arizona’s plan centers on a series of tax breaks to attract logging and lumber companies that will harvest smaller trees clogging most Arizona forests.
Sen. Marilyn Jarrett, RMesa, said Arizona has moved ahead of other Western states in establishing programs for dealing with tree overgrowth and dead trunks left from past wildfires.
Jarrett, who co-sponsored the state law, said several federal officials have indicated that the state’s innovative moves should place Arizona first in line for grants for tree removal on federal lands.
"They recognize we’re the first ones to get organized in this and trying to get our forests cleaned," Jarrett said. "So we’re really excited about that."
The Washington trip coincides with key congressional votes this week on funding for the U.S. Interior Department that includes Bush’s initiative, Jarrett said.
On Wednesday, the delegation met with James Connaughton, Bush’s top advisor on environmental policy, and Mark Rey, the undersecretary for natural resources and environment in the U.S. Agriculture Department. Rey’s office oversees the Forest Service.
The group also visited several offices on Capitol Hill, where federal Republican lawmakers showed interest in using Arizona’s law as a model in their own states, said Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa.
"That creates a synergy among the Western states to put pressure on the federal government to actually implement some of the things that are in our legislation into the federal plan as they start to tweak some of their legislation in the years to come," said Gray, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, Water and Native American Affairs.
The visit concludes today after meetings with several lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.