Oregon receives $60 million from federal rural program

A federal program that funnels money to roads and schools in rural parts of the country will send around $3.8 million to Central Oregon this year, a number that has steadily declined in recent years.

The fund will send more than $1.6 million each to Deschutes and Crook counties and another $541,000 to Jefferson County. The money will go toward school districts, public safety and roads.

Oregon as a whole will receive around $60 million, again the most of any state under the Secure Rural Schools program first proposed in legislation by Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

That money is in addition to $35.5 million coming to the state’s western counties from the Bureau of Land Management.

“School children seeking a quality education, families wanting to feel safe in their homes and motorists counting on well-maintained roadways all benefit from these funds that I have strongly supported since I co-wrote the original SRS plan,” Wyden said in a statement.

The federal government sends the money to states for federal lands that aren’t taxed as they would be if they were privately owned. The so-called timber payments have made up some of the lost revenue in states once dependent on timber sales that have declined in recent decades.

Oregon historically has gotten more than any other state through the program, which includes payments from the U.S. Forest Service. A separate account sends money to states from the Bureau of Land Management.

The program awards each state based on timber acreage. Oregon receives funding based on its 15 million acres, fifth most in the program.

Central Oregon’s payments have steadily declined, as the plan was designed to decrease over time. In 2011, Deschutes County got $3.5 million through the Forest Service program. Crook County got nearly $2.7 million that year, and Jefferson County got around $632,000.

Babete Anderson, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service, said that since 2012 the program has funded 95 percent of the previous year’s allocation. Congress must reauthorize the funding every year, which Sen. Jeff Merkley heralded in a statement Monday.

“These funds are crucial to keeping teachers in our schools, first responders on the job and cops on the beat in Oregon’s rural counties,” Merkley said in the joint statement with Wyden. “We need to figure out a long-term solution that establishes a sustainable timber harvest, creating jobs in the woods while improving healthy forest ecosystems.”