Who Should Pay for National Forest Thinning?

Sharon’s 10/29 4FRI post reports on “a $10 million bond issue to raise money to support forest-thinning projects,” primarily on national forest lands within the watershed from which Flagstaff’s municipal water is piped.

The article mentions two examples of local financing for national forest thinning, but in neither case did taxpayers approve the financing. In both (Denver and Santa Fe), water utility boards decided that ratepayers should pay for national forest work to protect watersheds. Santa Fe’s water board was sufficiently nervous about this modest ratepayer assessment that it has launched “the fee program as a public education opportunity—listing the charge on users’ water bills as a credit, with a note about the purpose of the expenditures.” In the meantime, Santa Fe is paying for the program with state dollars, borrowing against future severance taxes on private mineral and timber receipts.

On Nov. 6, we’ll know whether Flagstaff voters authorize the city to borrow money, repaid from future property taxes, to finance tree thinning and brush removal on national forests. To the best of my knowledge, this would be the first time that local taxpayers have voted directly to finance Forest Service work.

The Forest Service is watching this development with great interest as it seeks to diversify funding sources that have relied historically on federally appropriated tax dollars and timber receipts. The former is threatened by deficit concerns and the latter has all but dried up.

Question for the reader: Will local funding of national forest activities lead to more local control over national forest decisionmaking?

3 thoughts on “Who Should Pay for National Forest Thinning?”

  1. More local control is one thing, but what about contract defaults where the locals have skin in the game and a thinning contractor defaults on a FS public works contract or stewardship contract. Where in bankruptcy line do the locals get to stand to recoup losses and is there any residual financial liability for the Forest Service?

  2. Andy- This isn’t exactly the same, but there are some “good neighbor” agreements where States or possibly others people fund work on FS land. Here’s an example.

    The Colorado Good Neighbor legislation ( Public Law 106-291, Section 331) grants the Secretary of Agriculture authority to permit the Colorado State Forest Service to perform watershed restoration and protection services on National Forest System lands when similar and complementary watershed restoration and protection services are being performed by the Colorado State Forest Service on adjacent State or private lands. The types of services that may be extended to National Forest System lands include treatment of insect infected trees, reduction of hazardous fuels, and other activities to restore or improve watersheds or fish and wildlife habitat across ownership boundaries. [Public Law 108-447 provides for a similar arrangement in Utah and the Tribal Forest Protection Act provides for agreements with tribes about treating national forest land adjacent to tribal land. (See FSH 2409.19, Chapter 60, Section 60.6-9.)]


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