Democratic News

Washington, D.C. – Representatives of resource-dependent communities, the administration and leading experts on rural economics, voiced support for a plan by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to strengthen forest communities in Oregon and across the country, in a hearing on Tuesday.

Senator Wyden laid out his framework in an Oregonian op-ed, and during the hearing:

“What we are talking about is pursuing this on a dual track: boosting timber cuts and providing a safety net that provides for schools, roads and police in resource-dependent communities and then our bipartisan coalition will also support reauthorizing the [Secure Rural Schools] payment program while looking for a long-term solution that understands we have to increase our timber harvest, look for jobs in communities that abut federal lands and federal waters and protect our environmental heritage,” Wyden said.

Recognizing that counties face decisions this spring about closing schools and funding law-enforcement, Senator Wyden and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., have pledged to extend Secure Rural Schools for at least a year, while Wyden and other Energy and Natural Resources Committee members work to move a long-term solution through Congress.

During the hearing, which focused on the Secure Rural Schools and Payments in Lieu of Taxes programs, a range of witnesses expressed support for the program, and Senator Wyden’s approach:

Mark Haggerty, Headwaters Economics Policy Analyst: “Exposure to boom-bust commodity cycles is a constant hazard for remote rural counties in the West. By reforming county payment programs to focus on the long-term security of funding for basic government services, Congress can help create a buffer against this hazard.”

Paul Pearce, President, National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition: “We agree with the Chairman who said in a recent article ‘A short-term extension [of SRS] is not a long-term solution for these communities. We've got to get our people back to work in the woods, for example. We have got to increase the number of jobs in resource-dependent communities where there's federal lands and federal water. We believe that can be done consistent with protecting our environmental values.’

Our mission statement and Principles for Legislation (attached) echoes that sentiment; Long-term economic vitality must include legislation requiring active sustainable forest management to achieve resilient forest lands managed by the US Forest Service and ... the Bureau of Land Management.”

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell: “By actively engaging community members in recommending projects, the Forest Service has seen a significant decrease in appeals and a dramatic increase in successful long-term collaboration,” Tidwell said.

“The Secure Rural Schools Program has successfully strengthened rural economies and developed important collaborative working relationships between the Forest Service and partners,” he continued later.