Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, held a public hearing to examine the benefits of promoting soil health in agriculture and rural America.
Committee Reviews Secure Rural Schools Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chairman Bob Goodlatte today chaired a hearing to review the implementation of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act. In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools Act which created new cooperative partnerships between citizens in forest counties and federal land managers to develop forest health improvement projects on public lands, simultaneously stimulating job development and community economic stability. The Act is set to expire in September 2006.
The Committee heard from a variety of witnesses including Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey, representatives of forest county administration and education, and the forest industry. A complete witness list is included below.
Chairman Goodlatte noted his appreciation for the bipartisan efforts that resulted in the Act’s creation five years ago and anticipates continued cooperation throughout the reauthorization process. “Much like our work on the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, the Secure Rural Schools Act was a bi-partisan effort. I look forward to working in that spirit as we embark on the reauthorization of a law that has stabilized payments to rural forest counties and, more importantly, has brought communities together to accomplish projects that improve watersheds, enhance habitat, and help stimulate rural economies,” the Chairman said in his opening statement.
Between 1891 and 1905, 153 million acres of forestlands were set aside in Forest Reserves, thereby protected from future settlement and economic development. Many counties within or adjacent to the new reserves were significantly impacted by the loss of economic growth and diminished tax base to support essential community infrastructure such as roads and schools.
In 1908, Congress passed a bill that created a revenue-sharing mechanism to offset the effects of removing the forestlands from economic development in the affected counties. The 1908 Act specified that 25 percent of all revenues generated from the multiple-use management of the National Forests would be shared with the counties to support public roads and public schools. The revenue-sharing mechanism worked well until the late 1980s when, due to a variety of reasons, sustained active multiple-use management of the National Forests and revenues declined precipitously. As revenue decreased and the National Forest Service was required to scale back operations, the forest counties experienced rapid increases in unemployment and economic dislocation. The Secure Rural Schools Act of 2000 helped to stabilize the level of payments to forest counties.
The revenue-sharing mechanism has contributed significantly to sustaining forest county infrastructure, including roads and schools. Over 4,400 schools receive Title I funding which has restored programs for students in rural schools and prevented the closure of several isolated rural schools. Over 780 counties receive funding for roads, allowing local county road departments to address severe maintenance backlogs.
Additionally, this cooperative partnership contributes notably to the health of the National Forests. Over 2,500 forest improvement projects have been approved to address fuels reduction, habitat improvement, watershed restoration, road maintenance and rehabilitation, reforestation, campground and trail improvement, and noxious weed eradication.
In February, Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Minority Member Collin Peterson introduced H.R. 517 to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools Act until 2013. “This Act has empowered local communities to improve forest health and local economies and should be extended so that it can continue to benefit the forest counties, their schools, and improve the health of our National Forests,” the Chairman said.
The Committee will hold additional hearings to examine the reauthorizing legislation as needed.
The Honorable Mark E. Rey, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Ms. Reta Griffith, County Commissioner, Pocahontas County, Marlinton, West Virginia on behalf of the National Association of Counties and County Commissioners Association of West Virginia
Dr. Timothy Creal, Superintendent of Schools, Custer School District, Custer, South Dakota, on behalf of the Forest Counties Payments Committee
Mr. Jim French, Superintendent of Schools, Trinity County, and Chairman, Trinity County Resource Advisory Council, Weaverville, California
Mr. Delton L. Butler, Campground Owner and Chairman, Southwest Mississippi Resource Advisory Committee, Meadville, Mississippi
Mr. Bill Turner, Timber Procurement Manager, Timber Products Company, and Chairman, Siskiyou County Resource Advisory Committee, Yreka, California