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Issue Position: Environment and Natural Resources

Issue Position

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I am a strong advocate of the prudent use of our natural resources; the thoughtful conservation of our national historic, cultural and natural treasures; the conservation of scarce water supplies; and the restoration of forest health. By putting these principles into practice, we can protect Arizona's environment and improve our quality of life.

Forest and Rangeland Health

One of my top priorities continues to be restoring the health of Arizona's forests, which include the largest stands of ponderosa pine in the world.

Decades of well-intentioned, but unwise, fire-suppression and forest-management policies have resulted in our forests becoming overgrown, packed with dense underbrush and numerous small trees that deny older, larger trees the water and nutrients they need to continue to grow. The dense growth also weakens the forest, making trees more susceptible to insect and disease damage, and more prone to devastating, high-intensity "crown fires," which can melt soils, destroy wildlife habitat, and disrupt watershed functions. As we have seen far too often in recent years, such fires can also threaten human lives and property.

Effective science-based restoration will help restore forest structure and function to a more natural state, allow low intensity fires to regularly clear the forest floor of debris, and permit trees to grow to great size. I support the promising techniques that the U.S. Forest Service and Northern Arizona University are utilizing to improve the health of Arizona's national forests.

The Healthy Forests Initiative, launched in 2002, helped streamline the federal regulatory process to expedite the application of these important restoration techniques. Congress built on that initiative by passing the Healthy Forest Restoration Act a year later. Those two measures have enabled the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to work more productively with state and local leaders to plan and conduct science-based forest restoration projects. Since 2005, the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department's land management agencies have thinned approximately 40,000 acres of land per year in Arizona.

Stewardship Contracting

Congress provided the land management agencies with stewardship contracting authority in order to promote a closer working relationship with local communities and private industry, and accomplish a broad range of activities, including forest restoration, that improve land conditions. Stewardship authority allows contracts for as long as 10 years, so the agencies and communities can create long-term plans to restore large landscapes that contribute to the development of sustainable forest communities.

In fact, stewardship contracts are already yielding significant results in the White Mountains of Arizona. In 2004, the Forest Service awarded the 10-year White Mountain Stewardship contract to Future Forest LLC, a partnership of local businesses. That contract was designed to restore forest health, support local economies, and encourage investment in biomass utilization by focusing on the ecological needs of the area and guaranteeing a supply of wood to the contractor for the duration of the contract term.

Since the implementation of stewardship contracting authority, the cost of forest restoration treatments has declined significantly, from $1,100 per acre to approximately $550 per acre, and treatments of larger areas are now possible. Additionally, annual economic assessments demonstrate that the commercial utilization of the woody biomass that is generated from the forest treatments is having a positive effect on the White Mountains region, supporting dozens of businesses and hundreds of local full-time jobs. To learn more about the White Mountain Stewardship Contract, click here.

Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program

In 2009, Congress approved legislation establishing the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program, which is designed to encourage collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration. The new law also authorized the creation of a national fund to supplement local resources and leverage non-federal support to make large-scale, long-term forest restoration projects feasible.

I supported the creation of the CFLR program and joined other Senators in urging the Obama administration to fully fund it in the President's FY2011 budget.

Southwest Forest Health and Wildfire Prevention Act

The Southwest Forest Health and Wildfire Prevention Act, which I sponsored and which became law in 2004, created three institutes to promote the use of adaptive ecosystem management techniques and work with land managers to design and implement science-based forest-restoration treatments. That measure is helping to produce the science to do effective restoration, using the applied research approach of the institute model employed at the Ecological Restoration Institute (ERI) at Northern Arizona University. The three institutes, which celebrated their fifth anniversary in 2009, have proven to be the only existing entities with the capacity or mandate to carry out landscape-scale forest restoration.

Congress provided $2 million in FY2010 for the work of the institutes. I helped to secure $1.5 million of that for the work being conducted at Northern Arizona University's ERI.

Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program Act

In March 2009, Congress approved the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (MSCP) Act, which I had introduced with the support of Senators Ensign, Feinstein, and Reid. It authorized funds to cover the federal government's share of the cost of a comprehensive, cooperative effort among 50 federal and non-federal entities in Arizona, California, and Nevada to protect and maintain wildlife habitat along the Colorado River. It also provided assurances to the affected water and power agencies of the three states that their vital river operations may continue as long as they comply with the conservation program.

Since its enactment, the MSCP has helped to protect approximately 3,600 acres of land, and has helped to secure 15,500 acre-feet of water for the program's purposes. Hundreds of acres of cottonwood-willow and mesquite habitat have been reestablished at three conservation areas, and approximately 115,700 native razorback suckers and bonytails have been stocked in the Lower Colorado River.

Sierra Vista Subwatershed Feasibility Study Act

Congress approved the Sierra Vista Subwatershed Feasibility Study Act in 2009. That measure, which I introduced with Senator McCain, authorized the Secretary of the Interior to study ways to add to the water supply in the Sierra Vista Subwatershed, which is home to Fort Huachuca, the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), and nearly 76,000 residents in southern Arizona. SPRNCA, which protects nearly 43 miles of the San Pedro River, serves as a principal passage for the migration of approximately four million birds. It also provides crucial habitat for 100 species of birds, 81 species of mammals, 43 species of reptiles and amphibians, and two threatened species of native fish.

Because SPRNCA and the Fort could be negatively affected by declining water levels in the area, the Bureau of Reclamation concluded that augmenting the local water supply may be necessary. The feasibility study authorized by the new law is the next step in the process of determining how best to address the water challenges facing the Sierra Vista Subwatershed. Congress appropriated $289,000 for the federal share of the study's costs in FY2010.

Petrified Forest National Park Expansion

In 2005, I received the National Parks Conservation Association's "National Parks Achievement Award" for my role in securing the enactment of the Petrified Forest National Park Expansion Act. The measure, which is now law, expands the park to include an additional 120,000 acres of checker-boarded federal, state, and private lands to protect against theft of petrified wood and fossils, pot hunting, vandalism to petroglyph sites, and the environmental degradation caused by mineral exploration.

Congress has begun to provide the funding necessary to allow the National Park Service to begin the anticipated land acquisitions. I am hopeful that the Park Service will give priority to these acquisitions and that they will be completed in a timely manner.

Yavapai Land Exchange

The Northern Arizona Land Exchange and Verde River Basin Partnership Act, commonly known as the Yavapai Land Exchange, was signed into law in 2005. That measure, which I sponsored along with Senator McCain, was supported by the Nature Conservancy, the Central Arizona Land Trust, and the Arizona Antelope Foundation, among others. It will help preserve nearly 25,000 ecologically significant acres in the headwaters of the Verde to protect the watershed, safeguard wildlife habitat, and provide outdoor recreation for future generations. The exchange will also allow a 110-square-mile area in the Prescott National Forest near the existing Juniper Mesa Wilderness to be preserved in its natural state. The new boundaries also include the largest stand of privately owned ponderosa pine forest, along with one of Arizona's last untouched antelope valleys.

Other Environmental Initiatives

Some of the other initiatives that I've helped to pass include: appropriations for the Yuma National Heritage Area; the Yuma East Wetlands; the expansion of Saguaro National Park; and the federal acquisition of other environmentally sensitive lands for preservation purposes. In 2009, Senator McCain and I also helped win passage of the following legislation, which is now law:

* The Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River Act, which adds 16.8 miles of Fossil Creek to the Scenic Rivers System;

* The Arizona National Scenic Trails Act, which designates the 807-mile trail from the Arizona-Mexico border to the Arizona-Utah border as a National Scenic Trail, a designation held by just 10 other trails in the nation; and

* The Walnut Canyon Study Act, which directs the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service to jointly conduct a study of lands adjacent to the Walnut Canyon National Monument and develop a long-term management plan that conserves current natural, cultural, and recreational resources.

Clean Water Funding

The Clean Water Act's State Revolving Fund provides communities with a source of low cost loans to finance needed water infrastructure. The problem is, the formula that was established at the program's onset is now outdated and significantly shortchanges Arizonans. Arizona is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, but it ranked 50th among the 53 states and territories in terms of the allocation of federal dollars for clean water needs last year.

I am working to change that formula and ensure that Arizona receives a fairer share of Clean Water funding.


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