WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has agreed to keep compensating rural counties for a decline in federal timber payments because of environmental protections for the spotted owl, salmon and other species.
The Secure Rural Schools program has become a lifeline for rural communities, particularly in Oregon and elsewhere in the West, that have suffered from a decline in timber harvests on federal lands.
An amendment sponsored by Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana would distribute $346 million nationwide over the next year. The money goes to about 700 counties in 41 states, with the largest share going to Oregon, California, Washington state and Idaho.
“County payments are the financial lifeline many rural counties in Oregon depend on,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. “The program not only funds necessities such as roads and schools, it also provides rural counties with the fiscal security they need to get on and maintain a sound fiscal path.
The amendment provides for a one-year extension of the program to cover payments, Wyden said.
The amendment cleared the Senate Thursday on an 82-16 vote. It's part of a larger transportation bill that is up for a vote next week and still needs approval from the House, too.