Commentary: Reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools Act
I was born and raised in rural Siskiyou County, where I attended Grenada Elementary School and Yreka High School, and drove to town and back on county roads. If the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act is not reauthorized, my home county stands to lose more than $33.5 million in money that sustains local schools and roads.
Legislation to reauthorize the act (S 267 and HR 517) has passed though Congress, but without a funding mechanism. One viable long-term solution is to restore timber harvesting levels. By restoring timber harvesting levels, many folks, including Farm Bureau members, have the ability to make an honest living, as well as contribute to the original timber receipts system that is such a significant part of funding for their local roads and schools.
While this act primarily affects rural timber counties, the entire state of California will be impacted if this legislation is not reauthorized. Rural communities are under constant pressure to maintain economic viability and contribute to the state's economy and way of life. The California Farm Bureau Plan to Protect the Family Farm remains committed to enhancing rural communities and ensuring that they receive their fair share of public investments for public safety, education, transportation, infrastructure and other critical services. Urban areas of this state benefit from thriving rural communities.
The National Forest System was formed in 1905 as 153 million acres of forestlands were set aside. In 1908, Congress passed a bill that created a revenue-sharing mechanism to offset for forest counties the effects of removing these lands from economic development. Since the government owned 65 percent to 90 percent of the land in these counties, the 1908 act specified that 25 percent of all revenues generated from the multiple-use management of our national forests would be shared with the counties to support public roads and public schools.
It was the intent of Congress in establishing our national forests that they would be managed in a sustained, multiple-use manner in perpetuity, and that they would provide revenues for local counties and the federal treasury in perpetuity as well.
Today most counties have seen a decline of over 85 percent in actual revenues generated on our national forests, largely as a result of the decline in all forms of green and salvage timber harvesting caused by the Endangered Species Act and other environmental regulations.
This steep decline in revenues led to the formation of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition in 1998. The coalition helped pass the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 to address the funding crisis that resulted from the sharp decrease in timber harvesting.
This act created a new cooperative partnership between residents in forest counties and our federal land management agencies—the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This partnership included a new funding mechanism to support rural schools and roads by developing forest health improvement projects on public lands and simultaneously stimulating job development and community economic stability. However, this act expires in September unless it is reauthorized and a funding mechanism is established.
Siskiyou County and 37 other California counties depend on this funding for their local schools and roads. Let's keep the infrastructure of these counties viable so that future generations can attend quality schools and drive on county roads in these rural communities.
(Elisa Noble is CFBF director of Livestock, Public Lands and Natural Resources. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information for this article was provided by Sean Curtis of Modoc County Farm Bureau and the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.