Idaho First District Congressman Raúl Labrador introduced the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act to create jobs, generate tax receipts for the counties and address forest health. The concept was first brought to Congressman Labrador's attention by a bipartisan group of county commissioners in Idaho during the 112th Session of Congress.
"I am pleased to introduce legislation to help counties make up for lost timber revenue and help replace the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. In a time of record deficits, we must stop providing short-term fixes to our financial woes and concentrate on a long-term solution. Rural timber communities in Idaho have been operating in an environment of uncertainty for decades. Many public lands have been inaccessible due to federal policies and tedious litigation. We must find a long-term solution to empower rural counties and remove the uncertainty these communities are facing by allowing local management of federal forests.
"This legislation would serve as a model to replace the expired Secure Rural Schools program in certain rural communities and would also address concerns surrounding declining forest health. If you compare the stewardship of state lands in Idaho to adjoining federal lands, the difference is astonishing. This past fire season shows the disparity. In 2012, a record fire year, twenty percent of the national acreage burned was in Idaho. Of the approximately 1.5 million acres burned in Idaho, only 4,674 acres burned on state managed lands, the remainder was on federally managed lands."
The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act would provide a viable successor to the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, the authorization for which expired at the end of the fiscal year. SRS was created as a temporary program to help counties make up for lost revenue and fund the services that counties could no longer afford after the decline in timber production during the 1990s.
The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act would establish a program to generate economic activity for local governments and counties containing National Forest System land through a management-focused approach. The legislation would create "community forest demonstration areas" to allow the governor of a state to appoint local boards of trustees to assume management of selected federal forest acreage. The governor of that state would then petition the Secretary of Agriculture to cede management of the demonstration acreage to the appointed board.
Hunting and fishing rights, as well as other recreational uses and tribal rights, would be protected. However, no federally designated wilderness areas could be included in the pilot programs, allowing such areas to remain off limits to multiple uses.