Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Idaho Sen. Mike Crappo on Tuesday called for their colleagues to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for at least one year in its year-end funding measures.
Historically, the federal government shared with county governments 25 percent of timber harvest revenues from U.S. Forest Service lands and 50 percent of timber harvest revenues from federal Oregon and California Grant Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The payments were vital for thousands of communities. Declining timber sales prompted Congress to pass the SRS in 2000 to compensate counties with large tracts of federally-owned forestland that is tax exempt.
Curry County is among them, and the funds go to schools, roads and other needed services.
“Congress has an obligation to ensure that counties can adequately provide essential services for their residents,” the senators’ letter reads. “Without the certainty of these critical safety-net payments, schools, libraries and jails are closing. Schools that remain open will see a reduction of teachers. Roads go unpaved and become unsafe. Mental and physical health services are scaled back or even ended. Fewer and fewer law enforcement officers are forced to patrol larger and larger areas.”
SRS funding, they said, has been critical for more than 775 counties in 40 states.
“As we work to establish a permanent county-payments solution, diversify rural economies, improve forest management and forest health, strengthen historic forest revenue sharing with local governments, and ensure that our forests provide a range of values such as clean water, jobs, and wood fiber for local economies, a short-term reauthorization of at least one year is critical to provide fiscal certainty for forested counties,” the letter reads.
The letter is also signed by senators from Idaho, Oregon, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Jersey, Arkansas, Washington, West Virginia, Montana, California, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Alaska and Mississippi.