In what could be great news for rural communities in Idaho and elsewhere, a two-year authorization of the Secure Rural Schools program is included in the end-of-year funding package that will be considered by Congress this week.
Idaho Republican U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, along with Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley say the significant win for rural communities in the Northwest and nationwide follows calls from the senators to reauthorize the lapsed program and provide financial certainty for counties containing federally-owned lands.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act – originally co-authored by Wyden – was enacted in 2000 to financially assist counties with public, tax-exempt forestlands. Since then, Crapo, Risch, Wyden, and Merkley have worked to give SRS a more permanent role in assisting rural counties with large tracts of federal lands.
Critical services at the county level have historically been funded in part with a 25 percent share of timber receipts from federal U.S. Forest Service lands and a 50 percent share of timber receipts from federal Oregon and California Grant Lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. As those revenues have fallen or fluctuated due to reduced timber harvest and market forces, SRS payments helped bridge the gap to keep rural schools open, provide road maintenance, support search and rescue efforts, and other essential county services.
In recent years, however, Congress has allowed SRS funding to lapse and decrease, creating massive uncertainty for counties. (Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo