Am I the only one to see the irony in the name of the recently-expired Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act?
I hope not.
This federal legislation was designed to direct payments to counties with a lot of federal timber land – timber land on which the federal government has greatly reduced harvests. In Idaho, timber harvests on federal lands are down more than 90 percent from their peak.
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The law’s expiration, which occurred last fall, rips millions of dollars from the budgets of Idaho’s smallest governments. Rural counties will lose $26 million in payments for things like road maintenance and direct support for school districts. Idaho County will take the biggest hit at over $7 million in lost payments.
The sad reality is the law did just the opposite of what it said – the act has brought financial insecurity and a lack of self-determination to Idaho’s rural communities. These communities are now dependent on an annual appropriation from Washington, D.C., instead of the natural self-reliance that these communities enjoyed when they had access to the abundant resources at their doorstep.
It should be plain for all to see, every federal carrot is really attached to the end of a stick. If rural counties make too much noise about federal land transfer they are subject to punitive action from Congress and perhaps the US Forest Service.
If federal budgets must be trimmed for fiscal reasons, then folks who live in Boundary, Clearwater, Custer, Idaho, Lemhi, Shoshone, or Valley County must compete for transfer payments with a huge swath of the country.
The fragility of this arrangement demonstrates once again that Idaho must secure its own future by managing the lands within her borders.
Federal land transfer is the only lasting way to provide security and self-determination for rural schools and communities.