Economic bailout helps Forest Service

October 30, 2008

By Staff

 

When President George W. Bush approved a $700 billion economic bailout package Oct. 3, he also signed into effect a $3.3 billion earmark that will directly help the Snoqualmie Ranger District.

The earmark is a renewal of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which provides funds for improvements to public schools, road maintenance and stewardship projects.

The Snoqualmie Ranger district office in North Bend.

The Snoqualmie Ranger district office in North Bend.

 

Funding will be divided among 41 states and Puerto Rico over a four-year period from 2008-2011. Of this money, Washington state will receive about $42.6 million in 2008, with $2.1 million of this money going to King County. The package will decrease by about 10 percent year each, giving the county about $5.7 million total.

Money from the Secure Rural Schools law is divided into three categories, said Kathy Creahan, manager for the county’s Agriculture and Forestry Program.

Title I money — about 85 percent of funds — is directed toward roads and schools, while Title II money helps the county supply grants for environmental infrastructure in watersheds and ecosystems. 

Title III money supports programs including search and rescue and Firewise, a program helping rural residents develop fire awareness plans.

The earmark’s Title II funds will finance grants given by the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest District.

“I had mixed emotions about (the earmark),” District Ranger Jim Franzel said, pointing that that for about not too much money, the Forest Service needs to form a committee that advertises, awards, administers and monitors the grants.

Still, Franzel said he was grateful for the renewal of the act.

“I think it’s a good program and I support it a lot,” Franzel said. “It’s pretty fun when somebody has an idea to do something positive for the forest — for fish and wildlife and natural resources. It’s pretty rewarding seeing a lot of the interest groups have that opportunity.

“I just wish there was more money allocated to it,” he said.

Past projects financed by Title II money include replacing signs at hiking trailheads, removing noxious weeds from the Middle Fork and supporting the proliferation of huckleberries.

The South Mt. Baker Snoqualmie Resource Advisory Committee, the group that doles out the grants, may have to re-charter its members. This could delay the grant application timeline, Franzel said.

The committee meets once a year and normally reviews about 20 applications from non-profits like Mountains to Sounds Greenway Trust, Friends of the Trail and the King County Noxious Weed Control Board. 

Franzel said the committee would advertise the opportunity to apply for grants early next year.

The earmark’s historical background originated from a 1908 law guaranteeing 25 percent of Forest Service revenues — including profits from timber sales, mineral resources and grazing fees — returned to the state in which the land was located.

Federal land is nontaxable, and the 25 percent law allowed counties to provide for schools, roads and services.

But the law had flaws and resulted, for instance, as an incentive to harvest more trees.

“Counties said, ‘golly, we’d like more money, so let’s cut some more trees,’” Franzel said. 

As timber companies downsized, so did the profits states reaped from the land. 

To help fledging budgets, Congress authorized the Secure Rural Schools law, which lasted from 2000 to 2007. Under this law, counties could continue to collect 25 percent of profits from Federal land or elect to receive 25 percent of profits based on historic profit levels from the peak years of the early 1990s.

Although the earmark supplies counties with new funds, it appears that congress is fading out the program.

Evelyn Wise, county budget analyst, said the county went without money in 2008. The county is budgeting the 2008 funds, which arrive in December, into the 2009 budget. Still, the county will notice the gap if funding ends completely.

“We’ll either use other funding sources or those programs will end,” Wise said. 

Yet, Franzel said he was hopeful about the future of the act.

“There will be a new administration (next year),” Franzel said. “Things could change.”

 

Reach reporter Laura Geggel at 392-6434 .221 or lgeggel@snovalleystar.com.

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