Letters From the West

Labrador’s forest trust bill clears House panel

The mixed ownership of state, private and national forest lands adjacent to Dworshak Reservoir on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in North Idaho.(Rocky Barker/rbarker@idahostatesman.com

The mixed ownership of state, private and national forest lands adjacent to Dworshak Reservoir on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in Idaho.(Rocky Barker/rbarker@idahostatesman.com) (Click on picture to enlarge)

Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador got his forest trust pilot program through the first hurdle in Congress Wednesday as a part of a larger House bill aimed at increasing the timber harvest on federal forests.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, which has the part of the many approach the committee’s members have to upping the cut on federal forests. Labrador’s Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, now incorporated into the bill, would create pilot projects to turn over about 1 percent of Idaho’s 20 million acres of national forests to the state to manage as a trust.

The trustees would be the 35 counties that currently get $26 million annually for schools, roads and other projects under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, known as the Craig-Wyden Act. These counties used to pay for these with a portion of timber receipts.

But the larger bill, authored by Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, has an even grander approach. It requires the Forest Service to produce at least half of the sustainable yield of timber each year off of its 193 million acres of land give 25 percent of receipts to the counties where the timber is cut.
Hastings bill would streamline the National Environmental Policy Act analysis while Labrador’s section of the bill would eliminate the requirement because the state would be managing the land like it does its own.
In the end, Hastings bill would extend the Secure School payments he says so the counties can make the transition back to like it was before the 1980s forest wars and the earlier harvests beyond sustained yield dramatically reduced the timber harvest.
“The time has come to put our people and our land back to work,” said Labrador, “The expired SRS program is inadequate so long as it’s tied to federal policies that prevent Idaho’s rural communities from developing their own land in a way that would create more jobs and generate more tax revenue.”

The timber industry in Oregon and Washington love the bill.

“Action is long overdue to provide a lifeline to our rural, forested communities while keeping our forests healthy and productive for future generations,” said American Forest Resource Council President Tom Partin.

The bill has no environmental support and only its specific section on managing Oregon lands has much bipartisan support. Labrador’s bill and the concept of forest trusts does have Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s support.

But Randal O’Toole, a libertarian policy analyst, who came up with the idea of forest trusts in the 1980s, opposes Labrador’s bill because the beneficiaries are the rural counties who he says should simply raise taxes to pay for roads and schools.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West