Narrative versus fact.
When you have an agenda, you need a narrative, and it helps to have an official sounding organization behind it, like Community Rights of Douglas County or DCPARC even if you are just self-appointed opinionists who really don’t advise anyone, on anything that matters anyway. For your narrative to get traction, it should sound like you know what you are talking about, at least to those who aren’t in the know.
These self-created organizations help drive phony narratives, and that is exactly what this accusation of Improper Use of Funds is. It has little to do with anything other than a few local’s attempts to stop the logging and to fight against those who continue to push for sensible forest management. One of them recently told me that they were looking forward to the day that trees had rights too. … The same man would rather have hazard trees left in county parks to fall on patrons than to see them removed, and God forbid they go to a lumber mill!
To understand Title III, part of the Secure Rural Schools program, you first have to understand that for many years, the federal government through the BLM on O&C timberlands and the Forest Service on national forest land, managed renewable resources for the good of the national treasury and the local communities. Not only were the forests healthy and fire resistant, so were the communities, healthy — and fire resistant. Then comes a change in the management plan which cripples rural economies and it’s the SRS program to the rescue. Well kinda.
The counties began being propped up by taxpayers instead of sharing in the revenues from a renewable resource and private timber lands were left to meet the growing wood products demand globally. The national debt spirals out of control as payments into the treasury are replaced by a larger tax burden and deficit spending to keep counties afloat. All while billions of dollars of resource is left on the ground to waste as forest fires continue to decimate the west.
The timber receipts from O&C Lands went to the county’s general fund where they could be used for just about anything. They paid for parks, libraries, landfills, senior and veteran’s services and more. Fifty percent of the Forest Service receipts were split between the county road fund and schools to aid in education. Road maintenance was performed on schedule and county bridges were replaced on a 50-year cycle, all 301 of them. Academic programs were healthy, school buildings were safe and sound, and after-school programs were robust and did not have to go door knocking for funds. Graduation rates were up, and jobs were plentiful. Now under SRS, the money is restricted to certain things. The rules continue to change and reauthorizations become less certain while allocations continue to shrink. County and school budgets have been cut, services and programs eliminated, graduation rates are down and bridges and roads are falling apart. The feds have tied the hands of local policy makers in regulatory red tape where the only option is to continue to cut the budget. So, counties continue to lobby for more changes in the law to allow broader uses of funds. Douglas County leads that charge, and somewhat successfully. The latest version of the farm bill included language that allowed funds for search and rescue to include “patrol, training, and equipment.” The grant to Douglas County Fire District No. 2 falls into this category. District No. 2 responds to federal and private land and assists search and rescue with swift water rescues and other missions. The changes added to the Wildfire Protection Plans included language that allow the funds to be used to “carry out” the plan, not just write it. Wildfire Protection Plans are all about creating fire resilient communities, which has proven to be an impossible task in recent years considering the mismanagement of the lands around them. Keeping bridges and road infrastructure in good repair both for getting firefighting equipment to these areas and keeping escape routes open for evacuees is paramount.
It is true that different iterations of Title III regulations, as written by the federal agencies, have been less than specific, have changed over time, and have different restrictions based upon which version of the law the funds were dispersed under, making understanding them difficult. It is also true that Douglas County is the largest recipient of these funds in the country. Conversely, Douglas County was at one point, the largest recipient of actual timber receipts from a renewable resource. Those funds were plentiful and mostly unrestricted, those were better times.
It is not true that Douglas County Commissioners, present, or past, have misused or inappropriately spent these funds and that is a fact, not a narrative.