Time to bring certainty to rural communities
April 19, 2013
By Congressman Raul Labrador
In Idaho, the economies of rural communities
once relied upon the timber industry for job
creation and tax revenues. Over the last several
decades, radical environmental groups have
hindered the ability to develop timber from our
Counties that were once dependent upon timber
receipts to fund schools, roads, and daily
operations were left desolate and broke.
In 2000, when the federal government operated
with a budget surplus, and in order to
compensate for the decline in timber receipts,
Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools &
Community Self-Determination Act.
These payments were supposed to be phased out
over time as counties diversified their local
economies. While Congress has reauthorized this
funding twice, we are still fighting the broader
issues about multiple use on public land and our
counties have been left in limbo.
In a time of record deficits, we must stop
providing short-term fixes to our financial woes
and start working toward a solution.
Traditional rural timber communities have been
operating in an environment of uncertainty for
decades. Many public lands in western states
have been inaccessible due to federal policies
and tedious litigation.
We must find a long-term solution to help rural
counties and remove the uncertainty these
communities are facing.
To further this goal, I have introduced the
Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, legislation
which would provide a viable successor to the
Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program.
The idea for this legislation was first brought
to my attention by a bipartisan group of county
commissioners in Idaho during the 112th Session
of Congress. This month, the House Committee on
Natural Resources, of which I am a member, held
a hearing on this legislation.
The hearing included testimony from Idaho County
Commissioner Skip Brandt.
Commissioner Brandt testified in support of my
legislation for more state management of federal
forest lands. A video of Commissioner Brandt's
testimony can be viewed here. At the hearing, I
also questioned United States Forest Service
Chief Tom Tidwell about the effectiveness of the
SRS program. A video of the exchange can be
If enacted, this legislation would serve as a
model to replace the expired SRS program in
certain rural communities. The legislation would
authorize pilot programs, in partnership with
states, to encourage local forest management in
order to generate revenues required to fund
The legislation would create "community forest
demonstration areas" to allow the governor of a
state to appoint local boards of trustees to
assume management of selected federal forest
acreage. The governor would then petition the
Secretary of Agriculture to cede management of
the demonstration acreage to the appointed
Hunting and fishing rights, as well as other
recreational uses, would be protected. However,
no federally designated Wilderness areas could
be included in the pilot programs, allowing such
areas to remain off limits to multiple use.
Rural communities are suffering in this economy
and their greatest assets are being held captive
by the federal government. Instead of being
allowed to generate jobs and revenue, they must
accept millions of taxpayer dollars to make up
for lost revenue.
My legislation would allow communities to create
good-paying jobs and empower counties to
generate revenue on their own by locally
managing federal forests. The current system
provides cash payments to counties, which is
fiscally unsustainable, and leaves counties
unsure if the money will be there from
year-to-year. My legislation will increase jobs
and local economic activity and will result in
healthier, more vibrant forests.
It is time the federal government stopped
preventing communities from utilizing their own
resources to generate tax revenues to pay for
schools, roads and other civic programs. Our
intent is to allow communities to become more
self-sufficient by creating new jobs and a
stable funding source to provide necessary
services to their residents.
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