Government should extend funding on forest projects

The federal government should support roads and schools located in national forests.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced legislation to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. The act directs the U.S. Forest Service to share 25 percent of its revenues with local governments for the benefit of roads and schools. Southeast Alaska has received those funds for decades, and they are particularly important since the decline of the timber industry in the region. With less industry, fewer jobs and dollars are generated by business to support the economy.

This act originated 60 years before the Payment in Lieu of Tax law designed to compensate counties for the loss of revenue caused by the inability to tax federal property.

The Forest Service has paid billions of dollars to boroughs and counties throughout the country through the years. In 1990 the Forest Service sold $1.6 billion in timber. According to Murkowski, counties shared in more than $402 million that year.

Plus, that year the Forest Service’s timber sales generated more than 102,000 direct and indirect jobs. They realized $5.3 billion in economic activity and $800 million in federal income taxes, Murkowski says, adding that the sales revenue supports other Forest Service programs, including recreation, wilderness, road building, maintenance and fire suppression.

The act introduced by Murkowski would be extended for five years under the reauthorization. Over that period, the percent of Forest Service revenues paid would decrease 5 percent annually. During that period, it is hoped counties affected by the timber decline would be able to build new economies and require less financial assistance from the federal government.

That would require the federal government to implement land policies that allow economic development.

So far, the Tongass National Forest hasn’t seen any of the positive change President Barack Obama and his policies promised. The Tongass timber industry isn’t any better off now than it was three years ago when Obama took office. It isn’t likely to be. When it comes to the Tongass, it’s time for a change, beginning at the top, if necessary, with the president who sets policy for national forests.

11/23/2011 - 12:02pm