Yesterday, U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth testified on his agency’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget request before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which I chair. During this hearing, I told Chief Bosworth directly and plainly that the Administration’s proposal to dispose of 300,000 acres of national forest lands was not going to happen. Any sale of forest land affects the communities and counties in which those forests are located. It is unthinkable to put out a plan to sell off this much land, all across the nation, without first sitting down with each of those local communities and talking about their priorities and their goals. Decisions about land use should be set by stakeholders at the local level, not nameless, faceless bureaucrats in Washington who can’t tell Franklin from Fargo. If there’s one thing we don’t need in WNC, it’s more outsiders telling us what’s best for us, our families, and our community.
I further objected to the Administration’s proposal because it would send a disproportionate amount of land sale revenues to school districts in the Pacific Northwest. While more than a third of all the acreage proposed for sale lies in the South and Midwest regions, our school districts would receive only 10 percent of the revenues.
The Administration’s proposal was intended to generate revenues to pay for reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. Under this program, counties which had historically received 25% of the Forest Service’s timber harvest revenues are compensated for the enormous declines in harvests that occurred under the Clinton Administration. The program is set to expire at the end of September of 2006.
I cosponsored the original Secure Rural Schools bill because so many of the counties in Western North Carolina depend on those revenues. We can – and we will – reauthorize the program this year, but we will not sell off national forest lands to pay for it. I am proud to be a cosponsor of HR 517, legislation to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program that is currently pending in the House.