Fight over forest use snares rural school funding
By Michael Doyle – Bee Washington Bureau
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 | 07:50 PM
WASHINGTON — California’s rural schools are caught in a fight over funding and forests, and there’s no clear resolution in sight.
With millions of dollars and myriad trees at stake, a key House committee on Thursday will push a Republican-led plan that explicitly ties rural schools-and-roads funding to more active logging, grazing and mining on individual national forests.
The plan replaces an expired funding scheme that delivered $47.8 million to rural California counties — including Fresno, Madera and Tulare — in Fiscal 2010.
The bill set for approval by the GOP-controlled House Natural Resources Committee boosts logging and aids counties that are home to untaxed national forest land. This is huge in California, where 18 national forests span some 20 million acres.
The federal government once funded rural schools and roads based on timber harvest revenues, which collapsed partly because of new environmental restrictions. Starting in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools Act provided more secure funding.
John Wilborn, director of external business services with the Tulare County Office of Education, said the additional funding can be “significant” for some of his county’s smallest rural schools.
The Secure Rural Schools Act expired last year, following several extensions.
Emphasizing the commercial potential of public lands, Western Republicans want to connect new rural schools-and-roads funding with the individual forest’s average timber harvest revenues between 1980 and 2000, a period of particularly heavy logging.
In 1988, for instance, timber sales exceeded $218 million from California’s 18 national forests. Last year, timber sales from the same forests tumbled to only about $19 million.
There are 155 national forests in the U.S.
“Active management of our national forests is necessary to help rural communities create jobs and to fund roads, schools and emergency services,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chair of the House resources panel.
The House bill would set up a two-year transition period, giving counties a chance to opt out of the new funding stream and revert to the less-generous old system. The bill would also sidestep some environmental reviews and block lawsuits challenging some timber projects.
Skeptics counter that the specific revenue targets and bypassed environmental standards will damage national forests.
“Perhaps most troubling, this proposal creates a false expectation that we can return to the peak timber production levels of decades past,” Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman warned the House panel last year, adding that “the market conditions that supported those levels simply no longer exist.”
Instead, a number of congressional Democrats including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer want to renew for five years some version of the Secure Rural Schools Act, with guaranteed funding dropping by 5% each year.
I completely agree with Harris about the current conditions. But I can also see different ways of building up wood based businesses, plus I think a “locally grown” label for California forest products might be worth exploring. Californians are very sensitive about environmental issues, so I would think that appropriately grown local products, if labelled, might have a greater advantage if publicized in the marketplace.
This reminds me of discussions with my major professor at Berkeley, Dr. Bill Libby who was quoted saying
“We Californians are really not very good conservationists – we’re very good preservationists,” Bill Libby, a professor emeritus of forestry at the University of California, told me. “Conservation means you use resources well and responsibly. Preservation means you are rich enough to set aside the things you want and buy them from someone else.”
I couldn’t find any of his articles on the topic readily, but here is one on the same topic by Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee (at the time) a Starker Lecture at Oregon State from 2004 here.
Although Colorado doesn’t benefit from Rural Schools as much (or at all, haven’t looked up the figures), here is some thinking about generating new industry. Thanks to Bob Berwyn for this.
Summit County meeting to focus on regional financing program
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY —Even as the pine beetle outbreak slows down in Colorado, state and regional officials are redoubling their efforts to find some use for the vast tracts of dead trees left behind and to jump-start businesses that could help build a sustainable forest product industry in the years to come.
A new fund set up by the Colorado State Forest Service and administered through the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is offering loans to help businesses that harvest, remove, utilize or market timber from beetle-killed stands and other forested areas in northwest Colorado.
The Forest Business Loan Fund will provide community-based financial lending capital for timber and wood products businesses to expand their capacity to more economically remove and use timber, develop new market opportunities, and help address employment concerns in forest-based communities. This fund is currently limited to businesses in counties serviced by the Northwest Loan Fund.
The loan fund will be the featured topic of discussion at today’s (Feb. 14) Summit County Forest Health Task Force lunch at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco (12 p.,. – 1:30 p.m.) with Kim Langmaid, of the National Forest Foundation and June Walters, of the Northwest Loan Fund.
Funds will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no closing date to apply, but applications are encouraged to be submitted by April 30 for timely consideration.
At first glance, this topic also seems more partisanized than it does in Colorado. Maybe partisanization favors getting stuck in positions and not mutual finding a new way forward. That was the case when I worked as a staff person in the House of Representatives in the 90’s. I was the environmental and science and women’s issues staff for a Democratic Member, and the R’s wanted to update and improve (or mess with, depending on your perspective, ESA). We were told we didn’t want to enter discussions with them to find out what their issues were, because we wanted to characterize them as ESA-haters for future elections. Working with the other side only had downsides in that context.