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Where does the Crook County timber payment money go?
Federal government is placing new limits on how Secure Rural Schools timber payments can be used
October 08, 2012
Crook County will soon receive another year’s worth of Secure Rural Schools timber payments following a one-year Congressional re-authorization of the program.
However, before they receive the money, they had to account for how they intend to use it, and the options are dwindling.
When Congress approved the latest $308 million round of county payments nationwide, the authorization included new language that required states to inform the U.S. Forest Service how counties plan to allocate their share of the funds. They will distribute those funds in December.
“You have to first initiate, and then you allocate,” said Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren.
County officials recently met to decide how they intended to spend the money and sent the results to the State of Oregon. Fahlgren said 25 percent of the payments will go to the local schools while the remaining 75 percent will go to the County. About 60 percent will go to the road department while the remaining 15 percent will fund Title 2 and Title 3 programs.
The primary focus for Crook County was determining how they intended to spend the Title 2 and 3 funds. Title 2 money will help fund a newly-developed forest collaborative, which brings local government leaders together with conservationist groups and timber leaders to manage a portion of the Ochoco National Forest.
Title 3 funds have historically helped fund a variety of County programs, Fahlgren said, including a forestry class provided by Crook County High School as well as a summer work program for the Forest Service.
“We could put 20 kids in summer jobs,” Fahlgren said. “We could help pay that wage.”
This year, those programs had to go as the County was told to pare the list down to three.
“One is providing education for homeowners and fire sensitive ecosystems,” Fahlgren said. “Two is reimbursing the County for search and rescue when the emergency services perform on the national forest. Third choice is to develop a community wildfire protection plan in coordination with the Forest Service.”
The more restrictive uses for Title 3 funding -- along with the continually shrinking payment amounts -- has created more of a struggle for Crook County.
“They are taking 5 percent off every year, and the other thing, they are making us focus this 15 percent in a very tight manner that has a lot of restrictions on it.”
At this point, the Secure Rural Schools Act payments seemingly hang by a thread each year. The program originated in 2000 as a way to pay timber-dependent counties for diminished timber receipt revenues. So far, Congress has continued to reauthorize the 12-year-old program, but some federal lawmakers want to find a new way to help counties.
Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has expressed a desire for a long-term solution that forgoes county payments, but instead opens the forest to more timber harvest.
“I think you can turn to how the state requires the private forestlands to be managed . . . in an environmentally-friendly, thoughtful way that allows for active management and doesn’t tie everything up in litigation and appeal.”
Until such a program comes to fruition, Walden, along with U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) will continue efforts to reauthorize the program.
“Maintaining the federal government’s historic obligation to rural Oregon and rural America has always been my top legislative priority,” Wyden said.