Today, President Clinton signed legislation providing $1 billion in additional funding for the next five years to help over 700 rural counties in 41 states keep their schools strong, their emergency services operating, and their roads maintained. The President signed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (HR 2389), a bipartisan effort led in the Congress by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Craig (R-ID) and Representatives Boyd (D-FL), Hooley (D-OR) and DeFazio (D-OR). This legislation establishes a five-year payment schedule in lieu of funds derived from the harvest of timber on federal lands, which have dropped dramatically over the past 10 years. Rural communities will no longer be dependent on decreasing federal timber sales to staff and equip schools and provide essential government services.
Empowering America’s Rural Schools and Communities. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which establishes a $1 billion payment schedule over five years for over 700 rural counties in 41 states (see table). Eighty to 85 percent of these funds will go to maintaining schools and roads, with remaining funds used for local county programs and resource restoration projects.
Since 1908, 25 percent of timber sales from national forests have gone to help rural communities build schools and roads and maintain services. Over the past decade, revenues from federal timber sales have declined about 40 percent. With today’s action, counties now have the option of receiving a dependable, predictable payment based on the average three highest payments between 1986 and 1999.
Strengthening Local Involvement in Resource Management. The legislation also strengthens the connection between communities and the land and water that sustains them. In addition to helping schools, counties may also invest in forest projects that promote restoration of forest ecosystems, with local citizens serving on advisory committees. The final legislation adopts a long-standing Administration priority of decoupling county payments from federal timber harvests, and builds on the Administration’s commitment to rural communities.
Restoring Balance to Our National Forests. The National Forest system, established in 1905, today encompasses 192 million acres in 46 states and territories. Over the past seven years, the Clinton-Gore Administration has dramatically improved management of these forests, moving to end overlogging and timber road subsidies, and strengthen protections for roadless areas, water quality, wildlife, and recreation. In 1994, the President’s Pacific Northwest Forest Plan broke the stalemate over the northern spotted owl, balancing the preservation of old-growth stands with the economic needs of timber-dependent communities. The Forest Service will soon release a comprehensive planning regulation that would promote similar balance throughout national forests, ensuring both stronger protection for water quality and wildlife, and steady, sustainable supplies of timber and other commodities.
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