Have you ever thought what it would be like to wake up one morning to the reality of having lost your job, lost all the infrastructure that once supported your job and wonder how your community and your family would survive? Fast forward to the reality of today, the living wage jobs are long gone and your community is dependent on government aid rather than the vibrant economy that once flourished there. Rural families throughout the United States living adjacent to nationally owned forests, where once a thriving industry harvested and manufactured renewable resources have been forced into living this reality for the last 15 years. The Forest that was once managed to minimize fuel loading, create jobs and provide revenue for the local communities is now an overstocked and tinder dry fuel source or worse, a sea of blackened snags.
This government aid that communities have come to rely is known as the secure rural school act (SRS). The SRS act monetarily supports communities and is meant to substitute for all the jobs that were lost as a result of our government’s decision to stop managing the lands surrounding these communities. Historically these rural communities received a portion of the receipts from Forest service timber sales and more importantly the jobs and lifestyle that went along with living in a vibrant community. The SRS is critical for many rural communities. This act funds over 775 rural Counties and 4,400 schools. The secure rural schools act was first passed in 2000 and since then every year these counties have come to rely on this funding for their very existence. The sad truth is there is no certainty from year to year associated with the funding.
Each year families in these communities wait on Congress to decide whether or not their basic needs will be funded through a bill or resolution. Usually these funds are held hostage by one party or another because of unrelated issues. A commonsense approach to this issue would be to put this effort into restoring the economic viability of these communities through increased forest management. Perhaps this is too simplistic an approach to solving this problem; however, I believe that a majority of people in this Country are beginning to realize our federally owned forests are in a state of declining health. Most are very supportive of green fire breaks, removing the dead and dying trees and managing the fuel load. Our federal forests could and should be managed in a sustainable way creating jobs and strong communities rather than waiting for the inevitable fire. The best measure of the cost of these catastrophic fires is in air quality impacts, the destruction of critical habitat, the deterioration of water quality and the numerous animal welfare (habitat) issues.
According to the USDA in regards to the forest service “Our mission, as set forth by law, is to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people”. I propose this question, do you feel the national forests and in turn our rural communities are in a better position environmentally and socially now then we were 20 years ago when the Forest Service was actually managing our forests? There is a difference between conservation and preservation, and the fact that managed timberland has many benefits both environmentally and socially should not be overlooked when describing the difference.
Many ideas are floating around Washington DC on how best to facilitate a new direction within the United States Forest Service. Perhaps it will require legislation that charts a new course, or a change in leadership to get the agency back on track or even a return to common sense that places management back into the hands of the professionals who are trained to manage the forests, not the liberal courtrooms with their own agendas who opt to side with radical environmental organizations who continue to thrive off of the settlements and awards offered through the Equal Access to Justice Act.
What is important is that Washington DC hears from constituents on how important it is to utilize our natural resources for both the environmental benefits and the social benefits. I for one would like to go to work each day and support my family in an industry that relies on a renewable resource, rather than reliving the nightmare of congressional consent every year. When deciding as to what should benefit from federal forests I would ask that human beings be a prime consideration as we deliberate.
Myles Anderson is the current President of the American Loggers Council and he and his father Mike own and operate Anderson Logging, Inc. based out of Fort Bragg, CA.
The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c) (6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at www.americanloggers.org or contact their office at 409-625-0206.