Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Forest-based rural subsidy expires; timber states' Forest Service payments to be cut up to 91%

Secure Rural Schools, a U.S. Forest Service program "that pumped millions of dollars into rural communities has expired," meaning "sharply reduced revenue sharing timber-harvest payments for more than 700 counties and 4,000 school districts," Bartholomew Sullivan reports for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore. In Oregon, payments would be cut by 91.9 percent from $86.4 million in 2015 to $7 million. (Daily Yonder graphic: Secure Rural Schools funding in 2013. For an interactive version click here)
Secure Rural Schools, enacted in 2000, "was aimed at shoring up the financial wherewithal of communities and school districts in 41 states where timber harvests were in decline," Sullivan writes. "Historically, those communities had relied on an early 20th century law guaranteeing 25 percent of timber revenues dedicated to local governments. But as federal environmental policies dramatically reduced logging in the 1990s, those local budgets were strained."

Funds "went to rural schools, roads and emergency response programs in 720 forested counties and also permitted improvements within Forest Service lands," Sullivan writes. "Counties could be reimbursed for search and rescue costs on federal lands and funds could be used to establish wildfire plans. The law had provided gradually reduced payments since 2012 and was authorized a final time at $285 million in April 2015 and expired six months later. Payments to counties at the previous 25 percent level will start to be sent out in February, said Babete R. Anderson, the national press officer for the Forest Service." (Secure Rural Schools funding in Lane County, Oregon: KVAL graphic)
Anderson said in a prepared statement: “Without congressional re-authorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act, the Forest Service must revert to making payments to states under the 1908 act, commonly called ‘the 25 percent payments,’ for the 2017 payment year. We are working through the steps required to process the 25 percent fund payments expeditiously and anticipate making those payments by the middle of February.”

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