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UFWDA Community Forum  |  Access (Land Use, RTF, Advocacy, etc)  |  General Land Advocacy  |  Topic: "For Sale" by the US Forest Service « previous next »
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Author Topic: "For Sale" by the US Forest Service  (Read 1084 times)
Jennifer Hawkins
Florida Four Wheel Drive Association
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« on: March 04, 2006, 08:59:24 am »

What is United's position on the proposed sale of Forest Service lands to supplement the Rural Schools program?  I've not seen anything yet and there are some in our membership who are pressuring us for a response.  Almost 1000 acres in the Ocala National Forest and somewhere around 25,000 acres in the northeast GA, western NC, eastern TN (aka Tellico). 

Its strange that I haven't seen this topic on here yet, its been all over the papers.

Jennifer Hawkins
FLORIDA FOUR WHEEL DRIVE ASSOCIATION, INC.
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Carla Boucher
UFWDA Executive Director & Legal Counsel
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« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2006, 05:01:00 pm »

Hi Jennifer, thank you for your question. 

UFWDA does not generally oppose the sale of federally-managed lands and supports the general concept of the Rural Schools program.  The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) does not have general authority to sell land.  They may only sell land when Congress grants them the authority to do so. 
 
With that said allow me to explain the sale of lands you and your membership are raising questions about.

First, these lands will not be sold until 2 events occur -

(1) Congress must pass legislation authorizing the sale. 
This activity by Congress will happen in one of two ways: (a) Congress will pass reauthorization of the Secure Rural School and Community Sefl-Deterimination Act of 2000 (called SRS) or (b) Congress could pass the 2007 Appropriations Bill (The Presidents Budget) current version which contains language to reauthorize SRS, including the sale of lands in the states you mention.  There are two bills that have been introduced already to reauthorize SRS, they are HR 517 and S 267. 
(2) The U.S. Forest Service completes a notice and comment period as outlined in the Federal Register.  The deadline for comments on the particular tracts of lands proposed for sale is March 30, 2006.

If both of these 2 events occur then the lands can be sold.  The money will be used exclusively for funding pursuant to SRS.

SRS is also known as "Payments to States".  It was passed in 2000 in response to the declining tax base in counties where federal lands lie.  And although the current authorization for payments to states occcured in 2000, the concept of payments to states to support county roads and schools is nearly 100 years old.

In 1908, during the infancy of federally managed forests, there was concern that federalization of large areas could create a loss of tax base for the states and their counties.  It also created some additional costs for the local government, public costs for fire, police, trash removal, things like that.  So not only would the local government still have to provide services for the people using the lands, but they would not have any taxes generated from that land.  In some counties the loss was small because the forests were small.  In other counties, like Shoshone County, ID, the loss was very big because nearly 75% of the county land base is federal.  The 75% land base wasn't taxable by the county, yet people came to work, recreate, and travel through these lands requiring county support like fire, police, etc.;  activities costing tax payer dollars without tax payer revenue.    To balance out the loss of tax base Congress passed the 1908 law that required 25% of the revenue generated from National Forests to be paid to states for the use of counties for their roads and schools - thus the "payments to states" reference to this program. 

The bulk of the revenue generated in the forests was from timber contracts and mineral development.  In recent decades the timber program has been sharply cut and so the revenue paid from the Forest Service to the county has been sharply cut. 

The SRS was passed to reinstate some financial security to the counties where National Forests lie.  SRS is much more complicated than I'm explaining it here, but suffice it say that a county can opt in to paricipate in the SRS or they can simply receive 25% of forest revenue which diminishes year by year.  If they opt in under SRS they will receive a guaranteed dollar amount for 6 years.  The guaranteed payment is calculated by taking the three highest payments for the years 1986 - 1999 and averaging them. 

Whether the payments received by the counties comes from opting into SRS or from the 25% program, the money must be used for specific expenditure, including roads and schools. 

Here are a few examples from the states you mention.
Florida - received $2.4 million from USFS for 2005 revenues
Georgia - received $1.2 million from USFS for 2005 revenues
North Carolina - received $1.1 million from USFS for 2005 revenues
Tennessee - received $500,000 from USFS for 2005 revenues

Now I'm at the point of finally explaining how the proposed sale of lands relates to the SRS and "Payments to States" program. 
First, SRS is only authorized by Congress through 2006.  Without reauthorization there will be no payments made.
Second, the President is cutting funding for many federal agencies in order to pay for hurricane recovery programs.  So even if Congress does reauthorize SRS the money has to come from somewhere.  That somewhere will not likely be timber sales since they continue to decline despite severe forest health questions and the appropriateness of protracted ligitation by environemental groups to stop timber contracts. 
So, the President is suggesting, via his 2007 budget, to provide some funding basis for SRS through the sale of parcels of lands like the ones you mention. 

UFWDA position on proposed sale of Forest Service lands to fund SRS:   We generally support the sale of USFS managed lands proposed in the President's 2007 budget since the sales will be Congressionally authorized and subject to public notice and comment.  UFWDA also supports SRS and SRS reauthorization generally. 

If our members have concerns about the value of particular parcels in their state(s) we can assist you in making your comments to the USFS.  The comment deadline is March 30, 2006. 

If anyone needs assistance please post your questions here or feel free to e-mail me directly at legisadvoc@ufwda.org.

[modified by Carla 3/06 to add links]
For more information go to:
http://wwwnotes.fs.fed.us:81/r4/payments_to_states.nsf/Web_Documents/97086F7F54C972E788256CCC004E36D0?OpenDocument
http://www.fs.fed.us/news/2006/releases/02/secure-rural-schools.shtml
http://www.joe.org/joe/2005august/a6.shtml


Carla

Carla Boucher, Attorney
United Four Wheel Drive Associations
P.O. Box 15696
Chesapeake, VA  23328
(757) 546-7969 




« Last Edit: March 06, 2006, 05:05:30 pm by Carla Boucher » Logged

Carla Boucher, Attorney
United Four Wheel Drive Associations
P.O. Box 15696
Chesapeake, VA  23328
(757) 546-7969
Jennifer Hawkins
Florida Four Wheel Drive Association
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Posts: 27


« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2006, 11:19:31 pm »

Thank you Carla, I didn't necessarily mean for you to take time out of your schedule for the answer, I was hoping someone else would, but I'm glad you did nonetheless.

I'll be talking to you again real soon I'm sure.

Jennifer Hawkins-Vice President
FLORIDA FOUR WHEEL DRIVE ASSOCIATION, INC.
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Carla Boucher
UFWDA Executive Director & Legal Counsel
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« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2006, 01:09:38 pm »

Below is an e-mail I received from one of our members in the Montana Four Wheel Drive Association, written by Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT)and Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT).  Although they support reauthorization of SRS, they do not want to fund its reauthorization with land sales.  I encourage you to speak with your local county governing body to determine how land sales in your county will affect you and your access for four wheeling.

Carla Boucher, Attorney
UFWDA

****************

Rural schools act will be fully funded
By Senator Conrad Burns and Congressman Denny Rehberg

One of the things that makes Montana special is our outdoor heritage. Whether it is hunting, fishing or other outdoor recreation, Montanans love to enjoy our beautiful lands. Hunting and fishing are Montana traditions.

We don't support any action that will force our hunters to put their guns away or our anglers to shelve their rods and reels. We have over 29 million acres of land (31.3 percent) in Montana owned by the federal government. As a result of decreasing timber sales, there are many Montana counties that simply do not have the tax base to ensure adequate county services.
In 2000, Sen. Conrad Burns co-sponsored the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to provide payments to counties that experienced significant declines in Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management receipt-sharing programs. This year, Burns is co-sponsoring legislation to reauthorize the bill in the Senate and Rep. Denny Rehberg is sponsoring legislation to reauthorize the bill in the House. After Clinton-era environmental regulations took effect, timber harvest in many of these counties decreased and these counties needed federal help. We support responsible timber harvests to supplant the need for federal funding as a permanent solution.

Our counties rely on this funding to supplement school programs, teaching positions, administrative support and education infrastructure, as well as road maintenance and construction. We both believe the Secure Rural Schools Act must be reauthorized this year, as it is set to expire, and must be fully funded. The administration has proposed to sell off over 300,000 acres of federal land, 14,000 acres in Montana including over 1,000 acres in Lolo and Bitterroot national forests. The Bush administration plan is then to use the estimated $800 million in revenue to fund Secure Rural Schools for five years.

There are several problems with the administration's proposal.

First, we don't believe it's wise to sell public land to fund a program that deserves full funding on its own. We sit on the House and Senate appropriations committees, and as long we're there, the proposal to sell public lands will never see the light of day. We believe, despite the administration's repeated attempts to phase out Secure Rural Schools, it must be reauthorized this year before it expires.

Second, checkerboarded public lands are difficult to manage, and it's in the public's best interest to consolidate them whenever possible. We need isolated parcels of land as a valuable bargaining chip. In this proposal, we are simply giving these plots of land away when they'll be much more valuable for us in future lands deals. We look forward to working with Montana land conservation groups to prioritize these isolated parcels of land for land conservation efforts in the future.

Third, the Resource Advisory Committees formed under the original act have resulted in valuable collaborations. Where before diverse interests often met in conflict, they are now working together on forest improvement projects. To end that partnership now would be a huge disservice to our rural communities.

We hear often from county commissioners, rural citizens and school superintendents about how much they rely on this annual funding. The opinions of local officials in Montana help guide us as we work in Washington on your behalf. We have the seniority and committee assignments to see this through for Montana
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Carla Boucher, Attorney
United Four Wheel Drive Associations
P.O. Box 15696
Chesapeake, VA  23328
(757) 546-7969
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