Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Commissioner Chris Brong of Skamania County, Washington reminds readers of the challenges of funding critical services in a forested county when most of the land base is controlled by the federal government. Here’s what he had to say:
In Skamania County, WA, we have only 2% County private lands, which provide yearly private residential, and commercial property taxes. This is the primary Revenue source for our rural community.
Meanwhile the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (80% of County land) now operating as a pseudo-park, in the most productive Douglas Fir timber region of the Pacific Northwest, provides no timber harvest revenues to the County.
We plead with Congress yearly for compensation through federal Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding, which Congress is reluctant to continue funding permanently. Meanwhile, the resident endangered Northern Spotted Owl population continues to decline since listing over 20 years ago, which stopped the timber revenue. Now, US Fish and Wildlife Service hunters shoot the competing federal “protected” Barred Owl out of the sky! Non-profit Environmental organizations continue to file federal lawsuits against the federal US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
These public lands belong to everyone, yet the rural residents who live here have no authority over the federal land managers for active forest management and timber harvest for our community and forest health. The federal judges, environmental organizations, and lack of Congressional political courage, continue to create the catastrophic fire conditions on public lands, and continual degradation of County services for rural populations and urban visitors.