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Contact: Cameron Hardy

Thomas Asserts Wyo Public Lands Needs at Hearing
Senator says USFS budget plans could slight counties, forests in Wyoming, nation
February 28th, 2006 - WASHINGTON – During a review of the 2007 Forest Service budget today, U.S. Senator Craig Thomas called into question efforts to short-change funding for county payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act, which he believes will rob funding for counties under the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program (PILT).

“County payments are an extremely important funding source for counties with forest land inside their boundaries,” Thomas said. “I’m concerned that jeopardizing Secure Rural Schools funding will jeopardize the total amount counties would receive under PILT.”

“To propose selling off public lands we will lose forever, in exchange for a program we can pay for by other more prudent means, is simply irresponsible.”

Thomas is proposing legislation to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, but questions phasing the funding out, as proposed by the Administration.

“I question your legislative proposal to sell off 300,000 acres of Forest land to fund $800 million in Forest county payments under the Secure Rural Schools program for 5 years,” Thomas said at the Senate Energy hearing today. “Seventeen-thousand of those acres are in Wyoming.”

The senator pushed Forest Service leaders to ensure that land proposed for sale has been previously identified for disposal in the Forest Plans. Thomas questions the rationale behind ending county payments after five years, when a more consistent funding stream could be identified.

Funding Northwest Forest Plan Slights Wyoming
Today’s Energy and Natural Resources hearing also focused on proposals to fully fund the Northwest Forest plan, which Thomas believes is a move that comes at the expense of other forests, like Wyoming’s forest lands.

“The budget includes $66 million to fully fund implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan. As you know, the several national forests in Wyoming have just completed their forest plan revisions, and those plans are not being fully implemented. In addition, we have severe insect epidemics on several Forests in Wyoming,” Thomas told the panel, including U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey.

“How do you justify proposing dramatically increasing funding to the Northwest, while at the same time cutting funding to implement Forest Plans in Wyoming and around the rest of the country?” Thomas asked at the hearing.

Thomas is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which provided oversight of the USFS budget proposals.  

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