Wyden Stresses Urgent Need to Extend Secure Rural Schools and Sustainably Increase Forest Management
Washington, D.C. – Rural counties in Oregon and across the country urgently need restored federal funding for vital county services and sustainably increased timber harvests, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., stressed at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing today.
Wyden underscored the importance of both extending Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments to counties and sustainably increasing timber harvests in order to keep the essential services SRS has funded since Congress first authorized the program in 2000.
Payments through the Secure Rural Schools and County Self-Determination Act fund schools, roads and law enforcement in more than 700 counties nationwide. The payments expired last year, leaving counties with uncertainty about how to fund critical services in rural areas.
“Comprehensive support for rural Oregon is too urgent for this to be an either-or question,” Wyden said. “The three-legged stool of federal resources through SRS, local support and sustainably increasing the harvest has proved to be a successful equation for rural Oregon, yet the crucial federal resources have not been re-authorized for more than a year. The result of that inaction has left counties in Oregon and nationwide with far too much uncertainty when it comes to schools, law enforcement and roads.
“We now have achieved a bipartisan coalition that gives SRS the best chance for timely success,” he said. “Simply put, rural Oregon needs SRS, local support for critical county services and sustainable forest management.”
Officials from the Forest Service have said increasing the harvest enough to make up for the lost funding through SRS payments is unrealistic. In today’s hearing, Forest Service Associate Deputy Chief Glenn Casamassa re-emphasized that conclusion, agreeing with previous estimates from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell that logging on public lands would have to increase unsustainably by 600 percent in order for timber revenues to match what counties have received in SRS payments.
The last SRS funds were paid to the counties in Oregon in March 2016. Thirty-three Oregon counties received a total of $95 million in Secure Rural Schools payments last year.
Over its lifetime the program has brought more than $3 billion to Oregon’s timber counties and schools all across the state.
Wyden co-authored the original SRS legislation in 1999 with then-Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
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