Wyden, DeFazio join call to restore Secure Rural Schools payments

February 18, 2017 GMT

Members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation have once again urged federal officials to extend Secure Rural Schools payments to ailing timber counties.

The payments helped local governments in rural counties like Douglas County that have lost income due to reduced federal timber harvests. They were stopped in 2015.

Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Peter DeFazio joined 76 other members of Congress sending a letter Friday to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

The letter notes that secure rural schools payments were critical to more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools. In many cases, federal forests make up significant portions of the land base of these counties.

“Without SRS,” the letter said, “existing revenue sharing payments are not sufficient to support the services these counties must provide, and counties are forced to choose between critical services for their citizens.”

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Without Secure Rural Schools, federal policy reverted to sharing 25 percent of timber harvests off U.S. Forest Service land with rural counties; however, since harvests have dramatically reduced since revenue sharing was initiated 100 years ago, comparatively little income is generated.

The local share of revenues from timber cut on U.S. Forest Service land is divided up, with schools receiving 75 percent and Douglas County government 25 percent. The revenues off Forest Service land are expected to bring in just a few hundred thousand dollars to Douglas County government next year. County government will also receive $4.7 million from harvests on O&C timberlands managed by the BLM. Historically, the county received as much as $50 million in timber receipts from both sources combined.