Any day now Clearwater County will receive $1.1 million from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS), (originally the Craig-Wyden Bill) of the $28 million distributed to Idaho. The funds of SRS are generated by the U.S. Forest Service, are intended to help communities such as ours in several ways; one is to improve the environment within our forested Federal Lands and assist counties in maintaining the forests and develop wildfire protection plans. Another goal is to help provide jobs to those who live in areas where no taxes are generated due to being Federal Lands. Local resource advisory committees (RAC) are formed to recommend how the money is spent and to oversee the projects needed within their region.
For Clearwater County, much of the money will be spent to help maintain county roads, a major priority and ongoing expense to the county, which property taxes just can’t realistically accommodate. One of the reasons the county’s tax base is so low is that fifty-three percent of Clearwater County land is owned by the federal government, 14 percent by the state, and another one percent is owned by the Nez Perce Tribe. In other words, a little more than two-thirds of the county’s land, depends on the other third to generate the taxes needed to supply the entire county.
In addition to the county’s $1.1 million awarded by the government, North Central Idaho received it’s share ($785,000) of an additional $30 million distributed nationally to complete projects to benefit the country’s forests.
County Commissioner Don Ebert is a member of the RAC to oversee our area, and recently attended a meeting in Grangeville to discuss how the money is designated to projects on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. Most notably in the discussion was $195,000 to be put towards Weitas Bridge, an 80 year old bridge that spans the North Fork of the Clearwater River at Weitas Creek, which was closed to pedestrians and vehicles three years ago. the bridge provided access to the popular campground and a trailhead at the mouth of Weitas Creek. The exact cost to repair the bridge is still undetermined, as it awaits several assessments to dictate what needs to be done, but work is expected to resume this year and well into 2015.
Some of the their projects which were awarded funds included: $60,000 for the Clearwater Basin Collaborative; $62,000 for stand exams on the forest; $70,000 for treating weeds; $43,000 for plantings and stream channel restoration associated with the Little Slate Project on the Salmon River Ranger District; $34,500 for sign installation on the North Fork and Palouse ranger districts; $88,000 for the Selway Bitterroot-Frank Church Foundation, a group that helps the agency maintain trails; $54,000 for motorized trail work on the Salmon River Ranger District; $27,000 for trail work in the Hells Canyon Wilderness; $20,000 for recreation site maintenance work on the North Fork and Palouse ranger districts; $40,000 for trail work in various other locations of the forest; and $91,500 for various other projects.
Questions for additional funding next year add uncertainty to the entire situation, statewide as the government has authorized SRS funds on a yearly basis. The SRS Act was passed by Congress in 2000 to aid states with large tracts heavily timbered and Federal Lands throughout 2006. Congress extended the Act the following year, then in 2008, reauthorized the funds for four more years. Since then, it has existed on a year by year reauthorization.
“We’re glad to have it,” said Commissioner Don Ebert, “We feel like it’s an obligation of the government to provide us with the additional money. We use it prudently, and continue to plod forward.”