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The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


THE SECURE RURAL SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITY SELF-DETERMINATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - February 12, 2007)

Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, I want to welcome my colleagues from Oregon who are in the Chamber with me tonight. Congressman DeFazio and Congresswoman DARLENE HOOLEY are here with me, and I know we will be joined by other members of the Northwest delegation to talk about a very, very important issue, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, H.R. 17, also known as County Payments, that in both this Congress and the last has been a strongly bipartisan issue. The DeFazio-Walden legislation, H.R. 17, a bill to reauthorize and fund the County Payments Program for 7 years to date enjoys the support of 114 cosponsors in this Congress. The exact same bill last Congress had 139 cosponsors.

As I have said in 13 of 18 one-minute floor speeches: the failure of Congress, either the last one or this one, to reauthorize the County Payments Program amounts to a breach of faith to more than 600 forested counties all across America and 4,400 school districts all across this country.

I would like to take a moment to highlight a few of the impacts of the rural forested counties and school districts in America without these funds: severe cuts in funding for jail beds; sheriffs' patrols are being cut sometimes in half; criminal prosecutions and the pursuit of meth cooks, all of that being reduced; rural school districts foregoing overdue repairs; may not be able to buy textbooks, or face significant challenges busing kids to schools. It also means libraries will close in places like Jackson County, Oregon.

I would like to draw your attention to this poster here to my left. It is from a young lady, a fifth grader named Alice from Ashland, Oregon, who utilizes one of the 15 Jackson County libraries where she lives, and they are all scheduled to close in just a couple of months, in April, if we don't reauthorize and fund the Secure County Schools legislation.

Alice has resolved to read all the ``Hank the Cowdog'' books, but she needs these libraries to stay open. She says: ``Representative Walden, I live in Ashland and I go to Bellview School. I am in the fifth grade. I use our library a lot. We always use books on tape for car trips. My New Year's resolution is to read all the ``Hank the Cowdog'' books, and the library has them all. I need the library to stay open so I can finish my resolution. I also use a lot of books here for school reports. Please help to keep our library system open. Sincerely, Alice.''

Alice is a fifth grader in Ashland, Oregon. She gets it. If Alice can get it, this Congress ought to be able to get it, and we ought to be able to keep the libraries open in Jackson County.

Many of you in this Chamber and Americans all across the land will remember the heart-wrenching service for the Kim family in southern Oregon this winter, lost in the national forest, and the mountain climbers who perished on Mount Hood just 45 minutes from my home in Hood River. Both of these counties, both of the search and rescue operations that took place used funds out of the program that Congressman DeFazio and others and I are trying to reauthorize to help pay for the equipment and for the search and rescue operations, to go on Federal land using county resources to look for these people who were lost, some of whom perished.

These vital county services and rural school programs were once funded by timber receipts, but because of virtual elimination of the timber harvest on our Federal forests, Congress approved the county payments to develop forest health improvement projects on public lands and simultaneously stimulate job development in some of our rural communities.

This law has been a primary funding mechanism to provide rural schools with educational opportunities comparable to suburban and urban students. It has also restored programs for students in rural schools and prevented the closure of numerous isolated rural schools. It has allowed over 600 rural counties to address the severe road maintenance backlog.

Before I get into that, though, I would like to show you total Pacific Northwest timber receipts. As you can see here, it has fluctuated over the years, but it has never been as low as it is today. There were big years of timber harvest, this one up, very large; but generally it has been in this framework, and you can see, really, since the 1990s it has just gone way down.

The Federal Government has had a compact with these counties dating back to when Teddy Roosevelt was President and created the great forest reserves, setting aside huge swaths of land. Upwards to half of my district is under Federal management and control, and many of my colleagues and some of my counties it is upwards to 70, 75 percent.

The Federal Government believed in 1908 and again in 1938 that it had a responsibility to help these communities surrounded by Federal lands because these lands were not going to be on their tax base. That is what started this whole program. They used to share timber receipts. As you can see, timber harvests went down, the receipts went down.

You say, what happened to our wood products system? Well, here is what happened. See what happened on Federal forest lands. This is 1980 here, top level, about 11 billion board feet sold. Then it drops way down in the red. Where did we get the lumber? Imports. Soft wood lumber imports right there, the blue and the yellow.

So this came along, we said timber receipts are down, so we are going to replace it, 6 years ago, now almost 7. We authorized this Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

The country has 7,500 national forests and grasslands covering 192 million acres. That is the size of Texas, by the way. Our State of Oregon has 15 national forests. We are proud of them.

You need to know they cover 14 million acres, or nearly one-quarter of the State's land mass. There are forests in my district that cover nearly 12 million acres.

To put this in perspective, within the Forest Service regions 8 and 9, which cover 34 States, all States east of the Missouri River, Oklahoma and Texas, there are 52 national forests covering 25 million acres. My district alone has nearly half that amount of acreage. You can see those of us in the rural West are really impacted by what goes on in the Federal lands, whether it is search and rescue operations, forest fire operations. You name it, it is expensive.

When the Federal reserves were created, we set up this funding mechanism, again going back to 1908 and then coming forward. The problem now is promise to rural schools, the promise to rural communities, and the promise to rural roads has been broken. It broke last year, and it is up to us now in this Congress to keep the faith with the school kids of America and rural America, to keep faith with the resource advisory committees. They are bringing environmentalists and others together to improve forest health and habitat, great projects all over the country, to keep faith with basic county services that are being provided, funded by this program.

Folks, last checks went out the end of the year. What is happening now is the pink slips are going out. Road departments are being cut in half. County sheriffs' departments are being cut in half. School teachers getting pink slips, being told, we are not sure we will have the money to hire you back next year. This is now a crisis, and it is time for Congress to act.

I would at this point like to yield to my colleague from Oregon, my partner in this effort, H.R. 17, to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, Peter DeFazio from southern Oregon, the Fourth District.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I would just like to follow up on something the gentleman said. You talked about law enforcement needs on these rural lands. Wheeler County, Oregon, population less than 2,000 people, has three deputies and a sheriff. Total of four are doing law enforcement. They will have to layoff a quarter of their force as a result of the loss of this program if we don't reauthorize it.

Now, I tell you that because they are responsible for patrolling 1,833 square miles. That is an area 30 times larger than the District of Columbia. You are going to have three officers, the sheriff and a couple of deputies, over 30 times the size of the district, you have got more than that probably standing right out behind us here.

Now, who are these deputies? One of them rides horseback. He is out riding horseback on Federal land, and what does he come across? I don't know if you can see this, but he comes across a $19 million marijuana grove. These little vertical lines here, horizontal lines here, are a marijuana grove, a Mexican drug cartel with illegal nationals doing the cultivation.

It is amazing to me they got it to grow out there, but they did. It is a $19 million growth spread over a quarter of a mile of Federal lands, and it was one of these sheriff deputies riding horseback that spotted this. These are on Federal lands. Why is the Federal Government doing this? Well, the Federal Government is helping to pay for some of this, but now it is breaking its promise.

I yield now to our colleague from Oregon (Ms. Hooley), who has been a real champion in helping us on this.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. If I could follow up. You talked about Polk County. Klamath County has a total law enforcement operation of 35 officers to patrol 6,000 square miles. 6,000 square miles. They have to cut that by a third. Sheriff Tom Evinger says they may well end up having no law enforcement patrols at night, nor do the state police patrol at night.

That is an area 100 times larger than the District of Columbia. And when they do patrol they will have no back up. I mean, this is really serious stuff, folks. Search and rescue as you mentioned, the loss on Mt. Hood, but the loss down in southern Oregon, those are just the two that caught the media's attention, and the country and the world's attention.

Let me suggest, as we all know from the northwest, there are many, many more search and rescue operations going on all of the time.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I would comment. And certainly the gentleman from southern Oregon too, that Lake County, this is 93 percent of their road budget. 93 percent of the road budget. I think you can probably put the State of New Hampshire inside Lake County and still have some room to graze cattle.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. This is so serious to those counties. We have got to get this done.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I do see we have been joined by a couple other of colleagues, Cathy McMorris Rogers from the great State of Washington, who has been very active on forest and forest health issues when I chaired that subcommittee last session.

I know Mike Thompson from northern California has joined us as well. He has been active in helping us on this. Perhaps we could turn from our colleague from Washington State.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I have here a chart showing wildland acres burned over the last several years. The yellow indicates the year 2000, the green is 2005, the red is 2006, and the blue indicates a 10-year average.

As you can see, this all starts back in May and ends in November. But, again, over several periods of years, last year, we saw record amounts of fire on Federal lands. In fact, we spent a billion and a half dollars fighting fire. We burned more than 9 million acres. That is a record. And it just keeps getting worse and worse. So we have got a real problem out in the forest, and that affects our communities and our counties, because when you have these fires, what happens? Law enforcement has to go out and manage the roads and manager the flow of people, and they are doing around-the-clock vigil work on do we have to evacuate or not.

And of course the Forest Service is involved too, but a lot of that burden falls on that local community. I have had whole communities close for very important times in the summer, because of fires approaching. Sisters, Oregon comes to mind. So your comment about wildfires is very apropos tonight.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. We thank you for coming out tonight to share your comments with our colleagues and others about the importance of trying to get this reauthorized. I would yield now to our distinguished colleague, the gentleman from the first district of California, MIKE THOMPSON, whose district receives more than $6 million a year to help cover the costs of law enforcement, education, and other natural resource work that goes on there. So I yield to my colleague from California.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Thank you, Congressman Thompson. We appreciate your vigilance in our efforts to try and get this reauthorized; and your comments tonight, I think, are very powerful in our efforts. You talk about roads. Morrow County road department has 19 employees to service 850 miles of county roads. They are going to be forced to lay off at least seven, perhaps as many as nine.

Wallowa County, 700 miles, county roads maintained by a staff of 14. Soon there will only be seven. That is possibly one person for every 100 miles of road or the same distance from here to Richmond, Virginia. You would have one road maintenance person. This story is repeated over and over in my district, Congresswoman Hooley's district, your district, Congressman DeFazio's district, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers' district. All over the rural West we are facing this enormous problem.

And people love to come out into their Federal forests. I love to get out into our Federal forests. I love to backpack and do all the things many of us do. It is a wonderful attraction. But people get lost, they get injured, and who is there to pick them up? The local county. The county sheriff, the local rescue patrol. And that is why this funding is so important so they will have the resources, they will have the people when you break a leg or you fall down an ice shaft somewhere. There is somebody to come get you. And that is just the rescue part and the police part. We have talked a lot about the schools as well.

I know my friend from Clackamas County, Congresswoman Hooley, did you want to comment?

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. And we appreciate your help on it too. And I think we have all signed a letter to the appropriators asking them that in the emergency supplemental they fund at least a 1-year extension while we work on a longer equitable solution to this problem.

My colleague from southern Oregon.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. March of 2005 we moved it out of subcommittee.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Would you yield just on one point?

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Because you mentioned West Virginia. And Rita Griffith from Pocahontas County, she is a commissioner there. She says nine full-time teaching positions will be cut and funding for an after-school forestry education program will be lost. She is from Pocahontas County, West Virginia. I have got examples from Alaska and Arizona to California and West Virginia, so you are right.

I thank the gentleman for yielding.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. And, in fact, you think about in our State and in Northern California how many meth labs have been found on Federal lands, found by county sheriffs deputies generally. They are the ones out there. Now, there are other law enforcement agencies, but a lot of it is that.

And I showed you the marijuana growing that that lone deputy, by himself, no backup, on horseback out riding in the Federal lands, found 6,000 plants in a Mexican cartel drug trafficking operation. This is going on out on Federal lands. And it is not like the Forest Service has a huge police force to go patrol their own lands. They don't. And so it is a severe problem.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Exactly. We have been joined by our colleague from Northern California, Wally Herger, who serves the adjoining area, at least to mine. And I don't know if he touches up against your district or not. But he does an extraordinarily able job representing Northern California and has been very active in forestry issues and forest health issues over the years. And we are delighted you could join us tonight to talk about the importance of reauthorizing H.R. 17.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from the Second District California.

We appreciate your great work on forest health issues and your support of this effort. You mentioned this was just a fraction of what we spend federally for the Federal Government to keep its word. As you recall, we tried to get an amendment on the floor during the debate over the continuing resolution a week or so ago and we would have paid for that by just taking a fraction of what is spent for the whole government. That fraction was .00086 percent of the Federal budget that would pay for this; but not just pay for it, it would keep the commitment of this government to the people out West and elsewhere where there are forests that have been there for up until now 100 years basically, 99 years. So it doesn't take a lot to keep your word, and we need to keep the promise regarding forest health and schools and roads and other things.

So we appreciate your work on this, Congressman Herger. Thanks for your leadership.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Most of the States this side of the Mississippi have less than 7 or 8 percent Federal ownership. In my district, much like like yours, Deschutes County is 79 percent federally controlled. Lake is 78; Harney is 78; Malheur is 76; Hood River is 72; Grant is 61; Wallowa is 58; and Baker is 53 percent of the land masses under Federal ownership and control. That is why this is so important that the Federal Government keep its word.

I would like now to yield to our good friend and colleague from the Fourth District of Washington, the Honorable Doc Hastings, whose district receives $8.8 million a year to help with roads and schools in a very federally dominated area.

Doc, you have been a terrific leader in this effort, and we appreciate your coming down tonight.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. This chart here shows it very clearly.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his work and his help in the Rules Committee and on this issue.

You have been most diligent and most helpful and we appreciate your comments tonight. Harney County Judge Steve Grasty has said, ``Loss of this program means losing future opportunities for young people here and in rural counties across America.'' We have comments like that, and I am sure Peter does as well, from every county that is affected, every school superintendent who is trying now to work with their school boards to figure out who stays, who goes, what gets cut, what gets left behind, and what do we do to help rural kids keep up in a school system that is going to be devastated by the loss of these dollars.

This is a national problem. These are national lands. National policy determines what happens on these lands, and you can see by the reduction in Federal timber receipts, one of the outcomes of Federal policy has been near elimination of receipts, which has brought us to this legislation, which now is expired. And I appreciate the work of my colleague from the Fourth District of Washington as we work to reauthorize this to keep the Federal Government's promise to rural schools, rural roads, rural counties, and our Federal forestlands.

And I yield to my colleague.

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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I am told our time is about up. I just appreciate your help and that of our colleagues.

I would encourage all of our colleagues who are listening tonight, help us pass H.R. 17. Help us keep the promise to these rural people who are surrounded in their areas by Federal lands, which are gorgeous and we love them, but we need your help to deal with them.

Again, I thank all of our colleagues who came down at this very late hour on the East Coast to share their comments and concerns. And together we can keep the promise for America.

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