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Column: Funding Colorado Education by Rep. Scott Tipton
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Funding Colorado Education
By Rep. Scott Tipton
In the Denver Post|
July 28, 2013
A solution to help solve Colorado's education funding challenges is all around us.
Revenues from responsible timber harvests on federal lands have long been an important source of funding for rural communities that have abundant forested, untaxable federal land. Since 1908, Colorado and other Western states have used the revenues generated from timber contracts to fund education, and 25 percent of the revenue from these contracts went to the states and communities in which they originated.
For decades, timber contracts provided a steady and reliable revenue source for Western states, but by 2000, timber harvesting on Forest Service lands had decreased by 50 percent compared to the 1980s. It decreased 60 percent more from 2000 to 2009.
In 2000, Congress passed Secure Rural Schools (SRS) as a temporary stop-gap to provide six years to restore timber harvesting and re-establish a reliable flow of royalties from timber contracts to be used for education in rural communities. Unlike the previous system where royalties were generated from timber harvesting profits, SRS is not self-sustaining, but funded out of the U.S. Treasury. Unfortunately, years of endless environmental litigation and a stagnant federal bureaucracy have resulted in further decline of the timber industry in the West.
As a result, SRS has been kept on life support past its intended expiration date with a series of extensions. The system is broken, and in its current state is unreliable and costly to taxpayers. Worse, it falls short of the benefits that could be provided to our classrooms, our communities and the ecosystem should we return to active forest management of overgrown federal lands.
As timber harvesting on public lands declined, the acreage burned by wildfire each year has increased as steadily. Last year, one of the worst on record for wildfire, over 9.3 million acres burned, compared to only 200,000 acres of timber harvested, while there are 6.6 million acres of beetle-killed timber in Colorado alone, primarily on federal lands.
Wildfire has changed the landscape of Western states, cost lives, and inflicted lasting damage to watersheds, habitats and property, not to mention strained budgets and left long-term economic consequences. The cost of combating these fires is significantly greater than the cost of prevention through active forest management.
Over the last decade, the Forest Service has gone from using about 13 percent of its budget on fire suppression to nearly 40 percent, while advance treatments have decreased significantly due to excessive litigation and misprioritization by the federal government.
In a classic example of Washington dysfunction, rather than taking action to fix the problems that plague the system and precipitated the decline in responsible forest management and resulting increase in wildfire, agency bureaucrats have done nothing but clamor for more money to continue on, business as usual.
Responsible thinning of overgrown forests to remove hazardous fuels and create safe zones around structures is essential to maintain overall forest health.
I'm working with my colleagues, including Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, to address the need for proactive forest management in addition to fixing the broken Secure Rural Schools system. We're optimistic that the House will act on wildfire and forest legislation before the summer's out, including my Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act, which would expedite hazardous fuels reduction projects, and in doing so help restore sustainable timber harvesting and reinvigorate royalty payments for rural education.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton represents Colorado's 3rd Congressional District.
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