Tonight, Camp Verde is set to address issues facing forests and rangeland in rural Arizona: wildfires, insect epidemics, and the resultant downturn in local economies.
The town council is slated to declare a "state of emergency" that would encompass private, state, federal, and possibly tribal lands in the area.
The request originated from an Eastern Arizona Counties Organization letter saying that catastrophic wildfires are taking human lives, burning homes, and destroying critical habitats. Arizona's tourism and recreation based economy would suffer if no action were taken, according to Ron Christensen, the organization's board chairman.
"One in four bushes is dying in the Camp Verde area, and we have trees that could be affected in Copper Canyon," said Mayor Brenda Hauser this week regarding drought conditions.
Hauser said that drought conditions and beetle infestations are taking a toll on Camp Verde's flora, although the emphasis of tonight's resolution will be the removal of damaged trees near Prescott, Flagstaff, and in eastern Arizona.
"They want to put a policy in place to get rid of the dead trees," Hauser said. "By regionally approaching this, they want to forestall a lawsuit."
That suit was filed by a New Mexico-based environmental organization aiming to stop the salvage of timber by the Forest Service in areas burned by wildfires.
Similarly, the Southwest Forest Alliance of Flagstaff brought the message of old growth and large tree preservation to U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Dist. 1) during his recent tour of Northern Arizona. According to the conservation group, there is overwhelming public support for focusing forest thinning projects on small diameter trees.
Renzi discussed forest health in Prescott, Sedona, and Flagstaff forums. He addressed logging issues, bark beetle problems, and forest fires. The congressman, a Flagstaff Republican, recently obtained a seat on the House Resources Committee and is seeking a post on a forest health subcommittee. He advocated logging in order to control forest fires in the future.
"Renzi is helping that along," Hauser said. "The state of emergency has to do with the ability [of the Forest Service] to thin the dead trees. It doesn't look like the situation is getting any better—we're not getting any rain. It could be up to an 80 percent loss in the Prescott area."
Although the proposed resolution mentions tribal land, Hauser commented that the Camp Verde council would be careful about attempting to classify Yavapai-Apache Nation land.
"I don't know about that," the mayor said. "They've got their own sovereign authority."