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Rep. Labrador’s renewed efforts good; need to be more inclusive



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David Rauzi drauzi@idahocountyfreepress.com

Good effort by Congressman Raul Labrador who remains persistent on his proposal to allow state and local management of federally managed forests.

Earlier this month, the congressman reintroduced his bill, The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, that would create community forest demonstration areas of at least 200,000 acres, not exceeding four million acres nationwide, to model how state and local control would improve forest health, boost local economies and save taxpayers money.

We’re still behind the idea of demonstration projects; let’s set these up and try out the proposal in small scale, and see whether this bucket holds water.

Part of our support comes with the congressman’s focus that this program, if successful, could replace the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, which if you remember is the appropriation for rural communities to compensate them for timber receipt declines in the 1990s.

SRS is a continual funding battle due to the program’s limited regional importance in western rural America that has no relevance with eastern lawmakers representing large, urban eastern constituencies. SRS funding is critical for tax-revenue-starved rural areas such as Idaho County that is largely comprised – 80 percent plus – of nontaxable public lands.

This local management proposal, if it were to be successful, could transition rural counties off of what is essentially a welfare payment — grudgingly given and ever-uncertain it will continue to be renewed. In SRS’s place could be natural resources in production and real jobs creation; the hope for a better economy and increased tax revenue at the local level.

One thing we’ll say needs to be looked at in this reintroduced bill is extending management of this program to the whole spectrum of players. As proposed, this local control act would have oversight by a governor-appointed oversight committee including representatives from area government, recreational users, the forest products industry, grazing or other permit holders.

No mention of conservation or environmental representation here, the lack of which we’ll suggest may have played a part in the bill, which passed the House in 2013, not being considered in the democratically controlled Senate.

For comparison, look at Senator Mike Crapo’s Clearwater Basin Collaborative, which gives every stake in the issue a seat at the table, and we’re seeing local projects on the ground for both economic and environmental concerns. It’s not perfect, what is, but it’s progress for both sides that avoids the deadlock of litigation while both economies and lands suffer.

Local management is an idea worth trying on for size to see if it’s a good fit. To give this a fighting chance, however, it needs to build consensus in considering all the voices in this issue.



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