Representative John Verkamp, Republican of Flagstaff. Office: 542-3300.
The U.S. Forest Service is now in the early stages of reviewing proposals for managing forestland in Arizona and New Mexico. One proposal, known as Alternative E, was drafted by a firm named Applied Ecosystem Management Incorporated.
Applied Ecosystem Management, which is run by former employees of Kaibab Industries, conducts scientific research on behalf of the timber industry. Alternative E is the timber industry's proposal.
(Last December, by the way, Kaibab Industries agreed to pay $300,000 in civil damages as part of a settlement with the Forest Service. Kaibab had wrongly harvested more than 1,200 trees in Kaibab National Forest.)
According to Charlie Babbitt, president of the Maricopa Audubon Council, Alternative E provides for the harvest of 33 percent more timber volume than the nearest alternative.
At the timber industry's request, Verkamp--along with representatives Killian, Bowers and Jeff Groscost--introduced HCM2003, a memorial calling on the Forest Service's southwestern forester to adopt Alternative E. An identical memorial, SCM1002, is sponsored by a majority of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee in the Senate.
It's not uncommon for Arizona legislators to make recommendations to the feds in the form of memorials. This year, there are five in the House, four in the Senate. Memorials aren't binding by law, and they don't require the signature of the governor. But they send a message to members of Congress and to other federal officials.
It's also not uncommon for legislators to introduce measures at the request of industry representatives. But even the most seasoned public-interest lobbyists were aghast at the blatant pandering that took place on HCM2003.
Charlie Babbitt says, "It was not a considered judgment made by the legislature after a kind of careful review of the alternatives. . . . This was simply a rush to do the bidding of the timber industry."
Verkamp doesn't pretend to be an expert on the Forest Service's ideas for managing forestland in Arizona and New Mexico. He admits he signed on as the House memorial's prime sponsor after being told by logging representatives that Alternative E was the best.
"The way I understand it, the other alternatives would be so restrictive, they would either eliminate logging altogether or would make it so difficult as a practical matter it really couldn't be done."
Who told him that? "The logging people and the proponents of Alternative E," he admits.
Verkamp says he tried to hear all sides of the issue. He invited Alternative E opponents to speak at a hearing of the House Rural and Native Affairs Committee, which he chairs. Babbitt showed up, but says Verkamp didn't want to hear what he had to say. "I've never run into so much hostility in my life," Babbitt says.
Verkamp says Babbitt was ill-prepared, and acknowledges that he interrupted Babbitt at least three times to tell him, "We really don't want to hear a political speech."
He adds, "We really don't want to hear that the logging people have been raping the forests. He [Babbitt] was accusing the Applied Ecosystem people of being paid scientists."
Talk about a cheap shot.
Verkamp says that in addition to the representatives of Applied Ecosystem Management, he invited representatives from the Northern Arizona University School of Forestry to testify on Alternative E; supposedly, they support the memorials.
The NAU folks were snowed in and didn't make it to Phoenix, but one of them, Dr. Wally Covington, a professor of ecology at the School of Forestry, tells New Times, "Had I gone down there, I wouldn't have testified in favor of Alternative E."
Instead, he says, he would have discussed basic methods of ecosystem restoration. He's not familiar with the other alternatives, he says, adding, "I'm guilty of the same thing the state legislators are."
SCM1002 was approved by the Senate, and moved on to the House last month. As of press time, HCM2003 was up for consideration in the House.
Governor Fife Symington, Republican. Office: 542-4331.
As of press time, none of the environmental backlash bills had reached Symington's desk. Many aren't sure what he'll do.
Except for his calls during his State of the State address for putting people before endangered species and his threat to fire any state employees found trampling on private property rights, Symington has been noticeably absent during the assault on environmental laws.
Which might suggest that while he's talking a tough game, Symington knows that the data don't support many of the claims the Pollution All-Stars are making. That makes him an All-Star wanna-be.