Yesterday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that $323 million will be allocated to 41 states and Puerto Rico as part of a one-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS). For those of you who aren’t familiar with the SRS bill, it first passed in 2000 at a time when timber harvest sales on national forest land were sharply declining. The economic decline had a huge impact on rural communities that were dependent on timber sales. The SRS bill set up payment programs to help these communities, and to this day, these programs continue to support rural economies so they are able to continue to provide important public services like schools, health care and road maintenance. The bill’s reauthorization includes language that requires states to inform the U.S. Forest Service about how their payments will be allocated.
SRS has also been a long-time priority for community-based forestry groups. American Forests has been an advocate for SRS as part of the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC). RVCC has been advocating for conservation-based solutions in the West since 2000, the same year that SRS was first passed. In addition to restoring rural schools, roads and forests, SRS is also notable for restoration work that has protected critical habitat for endangered species like salmon and northern spotted owl.
This month, American Forests also signed onto letters to congressional leadership on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. American Forests joined other conservation groups like the Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council to reach out to these Congressional committees and urge them to pass SRS.
Vilsack noted in his announcement that the bill is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service’s long-standing commitment to supporting rural communities, schools and youth. It’s encouraging to see the agency continue to help the people whose livelihoods are very much dependent on our nation’s forests.