Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Counties form Forest Service advisory group

Group will recommend local projects

Express Staff Writer

Blaine and three other nearby counties are seeking people to join a committee to advise the U.S. Forest Service on local projects.

The council is part of a mandate from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which was reauthorized on Oct. 3. During fiscal 2008, the act provided more than $500 million to states that have national forest land, and therefore lose local tax revenues, for improvements to public schools, road maintenance and national forest projects.

Twenty-five percent of Forest Service revenue, such as the sale of timber and minerals, is returned to those states. Yet over the years, that revenue has declined, forcing the federal government to provide more financial assistance to rural counties through new legislation.

The advisory committee will be comprised of 15 members from Blaine, Camas, Cassia and Twin Falls counties. Members must be from one of the three following categories: resource users such as livestock owners and miners, conservation and environmental activists and lastly, government entities including local and state officials. There is also one public at-large seat.

"We need to find people who would be willing to serve on this committee that represent these different interests," said Andy Brunelle, the Forest Service's Idaho state coordinator.

The group will make yearly recommendations to the Forest Service to implement projects in and around national forest lands in southern Idaho. Half of the funding must go toward road and trail maintenance while the other half can be used for anything forest-related, such as noxious weed control or thinning of overstocked forest.

"The other 50 percent is a little more discretionary," said County Commissioner Larry Schoen.

While the main source of funding comes from the federal government, each participating county must also contribute about 10 percent of the total amount it receives annually from the federal government.

Last year Blaine County received $104,000 in Forest Service funds from the federal government. This year, the county can spend $153,163. Of that, the county contributed $23,000.

The idea is that the funds should be spent equitably by each county and for each county. Yet County Commission Tom Bowman said he hopes that given the number of people who recreate in the Ketchum Ranger District, Blaine County may receive more funding from the council than what has been initially allocated.

Bowman said it should take at least six months to a year before the committee is fully functioning.

Anyone interested in joining the advisory committee can contact the Ketchum Ranger District office or the Sawtooth National Recreation Area office.

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