By Steve Sherich – President, American Loggers Council
Over the years, the federal timber sale program has continued to decline while our federal government has racked up its highest debt in history. In 1986, the US Forest Service harvested 11.786 billion board feet of timber across the US, compared to 2.138 billion board feet in 2010 (USDA Forest Service, 1905-2010 National Summary Cut and sold Data).
As most are aware, when a piece of property is federally owned, it is exempt from paying county and school taxes. In lieu of paying those taxes, the government has always paid a percentage of the money generated from the timber sale program to the counties for use by the county for activities such as road maintenance and school funding.
In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to continue the funding for the counties and the schools despite the downturn in the federal timber sale program. The Act was extended in 2005 and is set to expire this year. The Act itself was never intended to be a permanent welfare, or entitlement program for the counties and schools, but was to serve as a stop gap while the federal government took the necessary steps to boost the federal timber sale program or the counties made the adjustments necessary to absorb the loss in revenue.
There is currently an effort underway in Congress to once again extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to prop up the counties and schools while these transitions are being made, and once again, it has become a needed piece of legislation because both Congress and the Counties have failed to make any adjustments. After eleven years of feeding at the government trough, there are a host of county administrators that know of no other way to increase revenues other than taking the check from the federal government, not realizing that the timber growing within their view on federal land used to generate those funds, as well as keep the unemployment rates in their communities low.
The question is, do we continue to support a government entitlement program for our counties and schools, or should we support job creation through the utilization of our forests which will lead to economic growth and prosperity across all of rural America?
A proposal has been made in Idaho and other states that have significant federal lands within their counties to start a Community Forest Trust pilot project. The project will provide a pathway to the counties to successfully transition away from federal transfer payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act. Environmental law applicable to state forest trust lands will apply to these projects and it might help to cut through some of the red tape that has hindered US Forest Service timber sale projects. Should the program prove to be successful, it might be the model that helps us to improve revenues from federal timber sales across the country.
The American Loggers Council is working to try and help restore lost jobs in rural America, in particular in our nation’s forests. By promoting the sustainable use of fiber that could be produced from the forests for solid wood, pulp chemical, and energy production, our hope is to create an environment where we can enhance the quality of life that is disappearing from so many of our rural communities.
There used to be a time when the United States could boast about the productivity of our workforce and the manufacturing capabilities that helped to create the strength and wealth of this nation. At a time when our government is looking for ways to create jobs, we should be thinking of opportunities to put people back to work on our federal lands, sustainably extracting the renewable resources that helped to build our economy over the past century.
Steve Sherich is the President of the American Loggers Council, which represents logging professionals in 30 States. Steve’s logging operation is based in Hayden Lake, Idaho. For more information please contact the American Loggers Council at 409-625-0206 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.