State News

An option to timber payments ?

Reps. Greg Walden, Peter DeFazio wade into treacherous waters to save county timber payments

Oregon Live —  Thursday, July 14, 2011, 10:10 PM

WASHINGTON — With crucial federal support for rural counties set to expire Sept. 30, a House subcommittee on Thursday examined possible solutions for an almost impossible question — how to prop up local governments surrounded by federal forests without adding to the nation’s swollen deficit. Republicans on the House Resources Subcommittee for Forests had a ready answer: Soften environmental protections and dramatically increase the amount of timber harvested from federal forests. The administration has set aside $328 million for the county payments program for the next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. But a senior official with the Forest Service told lawmakers that the agency has no specific proposal for how the program would be financed. Under current budget rules, the money must come from new sources of revenue or by cutting an equal amount from some other federal program. “The answer to the question about funding,” Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska., said, “would be to harvest more trees. That’s the answer.”

But Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., whose massive and rural district relies on federal county payments to finance public education and other critical local services, said he is open to other ideas along with boosting production of timber from federal lands that dominate the rural communities. The Associated Press says  that  Greg Walden want’s lawmakers to “think outside the box” to find a successor to the county payments program that expires Sept. 30. “I think we can all agree that the status quo doesn’t work and won’t work going forward,” Walden told the subcommittee during a hearing that marked the beginning of what promises to be an arduous effort to renew the legislation.

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