The U.S. Forest Service last week announced a one-year reauthorization by Congress of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which will send combined payments of $308 million to states in support of schools and roads.
Pierce County’s share of the payments for fiscal year 2012 payments that were disbursed July 24 is $244,167. That’s about $14,000 less than the county received for 2011. It’s also less than in fiscal years 2008 to 2010, when payouts to Pierce ranged from $757,000 to $614,000.
Payments are based on per capita personal income (as reported by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis), acres of Forest Service-controlled land, and the number of counties in the state that are electing to receive a share.
Lewis County received $2.3 million this year, the most of any county in Washington. By comparison, King County received $384,146.
Starting in 1908, the Forest Service has shared with states 25 percent of gross receipts from revenue generated by national forests. The money is earmarked to benefit public schools and public roads in the counties in which the forests are situated.
The Forest Service revenue is derived from timber sales, fees for grazing and mineral rights, recreation and other land-use fees.
In the late 1980s, due largely to declines in timber sale receipts, payments began to drop significantly and fluctuate widely. In 1994, Congress authorized “safety net payments” to counties in western Washington and parts of Oregon and California, a Forest Service spokesman said.
In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act in an effort to stabilize payments to more states through 2006. The act was extended for one year and then reauthorized in 2008 for four more years. This year’s reauthorization provides benefits for an additional year.
“Our support of schools and roads in rural communities is one of the many ways we are helping sustain and stimulate economic growth across the country,” said Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell. “Opportunity for students and communities is directly tied to the future prosperity of our nation.”
Officials said new language in the legislation for reauthorization of the congressional act requires states to inform the agency how counties plan to allocate their share of the payments. Among the acceptable uses of the funding are supporting public schools, road repairs, and projects that help maintain and improve the health of forests, officials noted.
The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.
Officials said Forest Service land contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated by the agency at $27 billion per year.
Forest Service land in Washington includes the 1.3 million acres of Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Other areas include Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Olympic National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Colville National Forest.