Fact Sheet: Secure Rural Schools Forest Service FY 2007 Initiative

The Bush Administration has proposed a five-year extension of the "Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000,” or SRS, which aids rural communities adversely impacted by a decline in USDA Forest Service timber receipts which are, in part, shared with the counties on which the timber originates. The Act was initially funded with general revenues; the Administration proposes to extend the law using proceeds from the sale of surplus national forest lands. The Forest Service has now posted a list of tracts totaling 309,000 acres in more than 40 states that it wants to make available for sale to fund the extension. The funds – $800 million over the five years – would be divided among 735 eligible counties in 41 states. The administration’s proposal is to cap these payments at a lower amount than previously made available, and to reduce them over five years until phase out. Seventy-nine thousand acres on the recently-released list are in California, by far the greatest amount in any state. Idaho, Colorado and Missouri follow with about 20,000 acres each.

The current law expires in September 2006. The Administration proposes that during the extension, as in the original provision, counties must expend 80% of their payments for education and road maintenance. An eligible county may elect to set aside 20% of the payment for certain environmental and restoration activities. Resource Advisory Committees (RACs) set up by the Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommend funding priorities to the Secretaries of Agriculture (USFS) and Interior (BLM) who make final decisions. Generally, the eligible activities are meant “to stimulate employment in the areas of forest ecosystem enhancement, maintaining existing infrastructure and the restoration or improvement of land health and water quality on or adjacent to federal lands.” Road, trail and infrastructure maintenance (or obliteration) and the restoration, maintenance and improvement of wildlife and fish habitat are eligible activities. Community service work camps which develop job and teamwork skills for prison inmates and at-risk youth are also eligible for funding. Projects may be jointly sponsored and funded by federal, state, local and private partners. Examples of projects providing recreation enhancements include work crews assisting with meadow maintenance to enhance elk and deer habitat and the restoration of a Coho Salmon fishery by the installation of a fish passage. In Arkansas, funding has prevented the closure of four Forest Service recreation areas and the county now works with the Forest Service to maintain eleven recreation facilities, improving historically strained relationships and preserving quality recreation opportunities. To date, states have received a total of approximately $1.9 billion ($2.5 billion including Bureau of Land Management payments) through the SRS legislation.

Though the current list includes 309,000 acres, Forest Service officials believe that only 200,000 acres would have to be sold to raise the target goal of $800 million. The Forest Service website identifies these parcels as “small, isolated or difficult to manage due to their location or other characteristics.” The Forest Service has stated that the sales would represent 2/10 of one percent of all national forest lands, and that these sales would be offset by planned Forest Legacy and other land acquisition programs, resulting in “no net loss” according to the Forest Service. The parcels are located on 120 national forests and10 national grasslands within 35 states. Lands located within the boundaries of any component of the national Wilderness Preservation System, National Wild and Scenic River System, National Trail System, National Recreation Area, National Monument, National Historic Site, National Preserve and experimental forests are not eligible for conveyance. Additionally, the Forest Service proposal gives local and state government agencies and nonprofit land trust organizations the first right to buy these parcels at market value.

A February 28 posting in the Federal Register (Vol. 71, No. 39, pp. 10004-10006) requests comments from the public through March 30 to help refine the parcel list. A list of the parcels by state and forest and detailed maps are available on the Forest Service website for all lands identified as potentially eligible.

Congress would have to approve the sales. A coalition of environmental groups has already announced opposition to land sales to fund SRS. Some key western senators have reservations. Though he supports federal aid to communities under the program, Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, remarked,”I have preliminary concerns about the offsets proposed by the administration and look forward to receiving additional details. Public lands are an asset that needs to be managed and conserved.” Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said it is a "short-sighted, ill-advised and irresponsible shift in federal land-management policy" that would hurt hunters, anglers, campers, foresters, cattlemen, miners and other users of public lands. Our public lands are a legacy for future generations. We shouldn't liquidate that legacy," said Bingaman.

Mark Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and chief government spokesman for the proposal, contends that the Forest Service would still have plenty of parcels to swap and will continue to add land at the rate of about 115,000 acres a year. "This is a reasonable proposal to take a small fraction of a percentage of national land which is the least necessary and use it for those in need and achieve an important overarching public purpose," Rey said.

In a separate initiative, the Administration’s FY 2007 budget proposal calls for the Bureau of Land Management to continue its pattern of recent land sales under the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA) by divesting another 125,000 acres of mostly small “checkerboard” parcels surrounded by suburban or urban areas. The BLM sales are expected to raise an estimated $250 million over five years which will be shared with local communities. The administration is seeking new authority to return 70% of the proceeds to the Treasury and to allow BLM’s share of the proceeds (capped at $60 million per year) to be used for conservation purposes other than land acquisition, to which BLM is now restricted, according to Lynn Scarlett, Deputy Secretary of Interior. Additionally, BLM would be able to update and expand the list of parcels that are eligible for sale. Some groups have expressed concern that these important public lands close to growing urban areas offer fast-disappearing recreational opportunities to urban populations and should be protected.

To view the list of Forest Service parcels, Click Here.

To view individual parcel maps, Click Here and then click on the link to “geocommunicator.gov”.

To read the transcript of a recent briefing on the proposal by Mark Rey, Click Here.

To submit comments to the Forest Service by e-mail to:
SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us

To submit comments by Facsimile:
(202) 205-1604

For more information: Call Cynthia R. Swanson, Assistant Director of Lands, USFS:
(202) 205-0099