WASHINGTON, D.C. — Critical funding from the U.S. Forest Service designated for rural counties school systems for the coming years is in jeopardy, but the top official with the Forest Service tells Congress the designated funds for this year will be forthcoming.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin noted in a hearing of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee designated funding for the Secure Rural Schools Act has been gutted for the coming fiscal year.
“Without Secure Rural funds, Pocahontas County would receive $72,000 next year,” Manchin told United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen. “That’s compared to prior year amounts of $750,000. It’s truly unconscionable.”
Manchin was referring to the proposed budget for the agency in the next Fiscal Year. Pocahontas County is among 14 rural counties in West Virginia which benefit and rely on on money from the S-R-S fund. Although proposed to be cut next year, the more pressing issue for Manchin is this year’s delay.
“They’ve lost 14 staff members already, but on top of that, they haven’t gotten their payments from last year and they are two months behind o n that,” said Manchin.
“We’ve learned we have all of the clearance and those payments will be made by April 15th,” Christiansen told Manchin and the committee.
Under questioning from Manchin, Christiansen also committed the agency is working to streamline special use permits for the forest service. The effort is a modernization plan to issue permits electronically. She added the permits will also be portable to cover the user on any forest lands across the country.
“We are clustering across forests,” she explained. “If you’re an outfitter and guide who operate on four different National Forests, you don’t need to go four times and have it renewed, you can go once and get a permit.”
Christiansen called the permit modernization one of the Forest Service’s three marquee reform processes which are underway.