Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, by a bipartisan vote of 244-173. Rep. Kristi Noem voted in favor of the legislation which renews the federal government's commitment to rural schools and healthy forests.
This bill contains provisions based on Rep. Noem's bill, H.R. 1511, which streamline lengthy environmental processes for forest management and provide for the use of good neighbor authority. Additionally, the bill contains the 10,000 acre categorical exclusion based on a provision Rep. Noem was able to successfully insert into the Farm Bill that passed the House in July.
"Our rural communities in South Dakota face a unique set of challenges, including reduced revenues from federal forest land," said Rep. Noem. "I was proud to support this bill which compensates those counties and schools that have federally managed forest lands. I'm also proud that this bill includes some of the provisions I introduced that promote healthy forest management and tools to help combat the pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills."
Under a 1908 federal law, the U.S. Forest Service has historically shared 25% of all timber revenues with rural counties containing National Forest land. In light of a dramatic decrease in timber revenue, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) in 2000.
H.R. 1526 provides a long-term solution by requiring responsible timber production on at least half of the Forest Service's commercial timber lands. 25 percent of the revenue from the timber sales would be shared with counties and allows for a short-term extension of SRS payments. In Fiscal Year 2012, South Dakota received over $1.6 million in Secure Rural Schools payments.
Counties depend on this revenue to help fund essential community services, such as education and infrastructure, since the federal government does not pay local taxes.