Letters from the West

Idaho rural counties get $26 million from Forest Service for schools, roads

Idaho will get $26 million of the $285 million that will be split between 41 states and Puerto Rico for local schools and roads as part of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act approved again by Congress earlier this month.

“This support is part of the administration’s ongoing commitment to rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Forest Service’s century-long support of America’s public schools and roads is one of many ways in which USDA helps rural communities remain self-sustaining and prosperous.”

“I’m grateful for the Congressional action to reauthorize this Act and understand how important these funds have become to the communities that receive them,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We’ve been anticipating its passage and we are positioned to make the payments as rapidly as possible.”

The payments from the Forest Service may be used to support public schools and public roads, for projects to help maintain and improve the health of forests; and for county projects including “Firewise Communities” programs, reimbursements for emergency services on national forests, and development of community wildfire protection plans. The forest projects are reviewed and recommended by resource advisory committees made up of local residents working together for the environment and to help provide jobs in rural communities.

Idaho County was the top recipient in Idaho with $7 million. Shoshone was second with $2.2 million. Valley County and Lemhi each got $2 million while Custer got $1.9 million. Boise County got $970,000 and Elmore $889,000.

The actual amount of each state’s payment is determined by a number of factors written into the law, including how many counties had elected to share in that payment.

Republican Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson voted for the bill that not only provided a two-year extension to the Secure Rural Schools program but also repealed the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate formula and replaced the practice of reimbursing doctors for services to paying them for performance.

GOP Rep. Raul Labrador voted against it saying it would add to the deficit that Secure Rural Schools should have been a stand-alone bill or a public land bill. He told Boise State Public Radio that rural county officials told him they understood his vote.

(An earlier version had the payments made in February under the old county payments law.)