Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in January that around $50 million will be paid to 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to support local schools and roads under the Twenty-Five Percent Fund Act of 1908 as compared to $300 million last year. The 1908 Act requiring 25% payments to the states from receipts from national forests in each state is permanent law and will guide 2014 distribution of payments, as the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act authority expired on September 30, 2014. The drop in revenue is expected to greatly affect many rural counties.
The Obama Administration supported a 5-year reauthorization of the program to transition payments to counties in the fiscal year 2015 President’s Budget. However, it has not been reauthorized by the new Republican Congress, and in the absence of SRS, payments to states revert to pre-existing law under the 1908 Act that mandates only 25% payments. Seven-year rolling averages of receipts from national forests located in each state are required to calculate the 25% payments for the benefit of public schools and public roads. Unlike SRS, these payments do not allow states an election to allocate funds for work similar to Title II (conservation work on national forests) or Title III (county projects for Firewise programs, emergency services or community wildfire protection plans) authorized in the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
This year, the estimated total amount of all 25% payments to all eligible states is about $50 million, compared to around $300 million available for the entire SRS program last year.
In the late 1980s, due largely to declines in timber sale receipts, 1908 Act payments began to drop significantly and fluctuate. In 1994, Congress responded by providing “safety net payments” to counties in northern California, western Oregon and western Washington. In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act that provided enhanced, stabilized payments to more states. It also created a forum for community interests to participate collaboratively in the selection of natural resource projects on the National Forests, and has assisted in community wildfire protection planning. This is the first year since then that the act was not reauthorized. For information on funding amounts by state visit www.fs.fed.us/news/2014-2015-payments-roads-schools.
The mission of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20% of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80% of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.