Adopted in 1906, federal law requires the U.S. Forest Service to provide counties and schools with 25 percent of the revenues generated on federal forest lands from a variety of activities including timber harvesting, mining, and recreational activities. In 2000, Congress enacted the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) to provide funding for rural counties and school districts to replace revenue from dwindling forest receipts due to a national decline in timber harvesting. When first enacted, SRS provided nearly $60 million annually to California’s forested counties, with half of the funding allocated to school districts, and half of the funding allocated to counties for county roads. SRS initially expired in 2006, but has been reauthorized multiple times since first enacted. Most reauthorization efforts have included program funding reductions.
In March 2018, Congress reauthorized SRS payments for FY 2017 and FY 2018. This SRS extension provided California counties approximately $26 million for each of those years, of which nearly half will be forwarded to rural schools, and the other half for road maintenance. However, the on-again, off-again flow of SRS payments continues to frustrate California’s forested counties. Not only are the revenue losses problematic, but the lack of certainty in receiving these payments makes it difficult for forested counties to properly build annual budgets.
Recently, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Senator Larry Crapo (R-Idaho), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), and Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), introduced the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act which creates a permanent endowment fund to provide stable and increased funding for forested counties that is separate from the current annual appropriations process. In early 2019, the RCRC Board of Directors adopted a “support” position for the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act as a way to gain a permanent, stable revenue stream for California’s forested counties.
While RCRC supports the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, until this measure is enacted, California’s counties need a reauthorization and full funding of the SRS program.
Staff: Paul A. Smith