Editor’s note: Published in the Shoshone News-Press (p. 2) on September 19th.
NOT WITHOUT A FIGHT! COALITION ANNOUNCES CONFERENCE IN WALLACE
PUBLIC IS INVITED TO ATTEND
A coalition of Shoshone County political and educational leaders will host a one-day conference at the Wallace Inn on Wednesday, September 24th. The event’s goal is to “bring the voices of counties with national forests forcefully into the current national policy debate surrounding both the renewal of the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) and the forging of a new and lasting compact between forested counties and the federal government.” Seventy-two percent of Shoshone County’s land area is national forest. The conference brings together a number of distinguished presenters from across the nation and will premier a 30-minute educational and documentary video titled “Counties in Crisis.” Commissioner Larry Yergler and Mullan schools superintendent Robin Stanley are co-chairs of the event. The event is open to the public; a $25 registration fee will be required. The event commences at 7:30 a.m. with registration and sign-in, followed by introductory remarks by Robin Stanley at 8:00 a.m. Lunch will be provided.
Conference presenters include Forest Service historian James Lewis, public policy scholar Robert H. Nelson, Evergreen Magazine editor and publisher Jim Petersen, psychologist Julia Petersen, Wallace resident Ron Roizen, and Forest Service retiree Phil Aune.
There is a history behind this conference and its focuses.
Since 2000, federal Secure Rural Schools payments have compensated counties with national forests for declining timber harvest revenues and for lost property tax (federal lands pay no property tax). At their peak, federal SRS payments contributed about $400 per capita to Shoshone County government and schools. Over most of its history, the U.S. Forest Service paid counties a 25 percent share of timber harvest revenues. In the 1990s, however, timber harvests on national forests commenced an historic decline. SRS stepped in to compensate counties with payments based on past rather than current timber harvests. Now, after 15 years of SRS payments, the fate of this vital legislation is up for grabs. Both county government and local school districts rely on SRS payments to cover significant parts of their annual budgets.
Shoshone County’s county commissioners and school district superintendents decided last year to form a coalition aimed at three chief goals: first, encouraging the renewal of the SRS safety net program; second, fostering the return of much-needed forest management, fuel reduction, and timber sales projects to national forests in our county; and, third, forging a new compact between forested counties and the federal government, one that returns forest-related economic activity to our national forests and reduces the increasing threat of catastrophic wildfire that the West has seen over the past two decades. Their new group was named the “Not Without a Fight! Coalition” – a name aimed at conveying that governmental and educational leaders in our county were not going to sit idly by, watching Shoshone County’s economics and wellbeing deteriorate as a result of ill-conceived federal forest policy choices. The coalition comprises commissioners Larry Yergler, Leslee Stanley, and Jim Best and superintendents Woody Woodford, Robert Ranells, and Robin Stanley. Sandy Podsaid, Jim See, and Ron Roizen are advisory members.
The NWAF! Coalition commenced a number of enterprises aimed at achieving these goals: (a) It published a mission-announcing op-ed in the Coeur d’Alene Press; (b) it launched a blog – the “Not Without a Fight! Blog” — specifically aimed at serving the needs and interests of counties with national forests; and (c) it produced a documentary video outlining the county perspective on the national debate surrounding SRS’s renewal and the reform forest management in our national forests (premiering at the conference). Wednesday’s conference represents yet another of the Coalition’s efforts to give forested counties a proactive and forceful role in the evolution of U.S. policy in relation to our national forests.