Forest Service officials say the sales are needed to raise $800 million over the next five years to pay for schools and roads in rural counties hurt by logging cutbacks on federal land.Notice, however, that this money is only required because the Bushies are eliminating the current source of that money, as reported in the Duluth News Tribune a few days ago:
The Bush administration proposed Monday phasing out a program that has pumped more than $2 billion into rural states hurt by logging cutbacks on federal land.Former timber industry lobbyist and renowned anti-environmentalist Mark Rey claimed the previous program to fund rural schools was never intended to be permanent. Is the sell-off of public lands intended to be permanent?
The plan would cut in half payments made to rural counties in 41 states and Puerto Rico for schools, roads and other infrastructure needs. The six-year-old "county payments" law has helped offset sharp declines in timber sales in western states in the wake of federal forest policy that restricts logging to protect endangered species such as the spotted owl.
Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who directs U.S. forest policy, called the proposal painful but necessary in a tight budget year. Rey said the 2000 law was designed to help rural counties make the transition from dependence on timber receipts to a more broad-based economy.
"We've had six years of it now. We're proposing another five years," he said, calling the plan "an extension of a program that was never intended to be permanent."
Western lawmakers said the proposal amounted to a death knell for a law that many described as the most successful federal forestry initiative in decades.
"Governing is about priorities, and this proposal to cut funding to rural counties by 50 percent tells rural Oregon that we're not very high on the administration's priority list," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "The administration found billions to fund subsidies for energy company boondoggles, so I have trouble believing they couldn't find the money to maintain support for rural counties."
For more on the dismal details, see this devastating editorial published by the Oregonian on Wednesday: "Swinging a budget ax at Oregon's timber towns: The president's plan to slash county payments will injure rural communities and reignite public land conflicts."