Editor’s note: Today, with thanks to Woody Woodford, a letter sent by Kermith Walters, President of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, to Rob Bishop.
May 17, 2016
The Honorable Rob Bishop/Chairman, House Natural Resources Committee/1329 Longworth House Office Building/Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Chairman Bishop:
The National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition is eager to work with the Natural Resources Committee and Congress as the Committee considers the critical issues of forest health, public forest management, fire control and public safety. In that context, The National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition is greatly concerned about the communities served by the Secure Rural Schools program.
The Secure Rural Schools provides essential financial support to local schools and communities in Utah and states across the country. 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools in rural communities and school districts in Utah and 40 other states rely on critical Secure Rural Schools funding to support essential local community fire and safety services and to provide the basic education programs necessary to prepare their students for the future.
In FY 2014, SRS payments totaled $285 million. While Congress retroactively reauthorized SRS payments for FY 2014 and 2015 in 2015, with the payments being made in calendar year 2016, counties and schools are once again facing the possibility of significant budget shortfalls.
The National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition is working together with Congress to revitalize the economies of our national forest communities so our local school districts and communities can continue to deliver essential fire, safety, roads and education services and programs to students and citizens.
However, the current uncertainty about authorization and funding makes it very difficult for local county governments and school boards to plan their budgets for the next fiscal year without the prospect of terminating essential services. SRS payments are critically important until the federal government resumes a forward-thinking, active management strategy in our nation’s forests. Failing to act to fulfill this long-standing obligation will leave counties and schools across the country without the important resources they need to provide essential fire, safety, and educational services to their communities and schools.
As the Natural Resources Committee works to develop long term forest management programs that lead to healthy forests, productive revenues, job creation and revitalized local economies, it is also critical that rural communities and schools in Utah and every state affected by forest management policies including the Secure Rural Schools program continue to function by providing everyday community and school services.
The National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition looks forward to working positively with the Natural Resources Committee to address the issues of forest health, fire control, public safety and forest management. We ask the Committee to also take steps to continue the historic national commitment to and investment in the communities and schools served by the Secure Rural Schools and Communities program.
Thank you for your leadership. We look forward to working together with you and the Committee. We very much appreciate your efforts.
President, National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition