Timber counties aid won’t be cut by sequestration

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The mandatory 5-percent automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, will not apply to next month’s federal subsidy checks to timber counties.

Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Peter DeFazio announced Monday that the determination came from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Oregon timber counties are to share $100 million from Wyden’s Secure Rural Schools Act subsidies. The checks go out in January to cover the period ending last Sept. 30. Earlier payments were cut by the automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect last spring.

It was not immediately clear what led to the change. Oregon’s share is the biggest of 41 states splitting $329 million. Oregon’s share is less than half what it got in 2008.

The program makes up for cuts in federal timber revenues paid to counties since logging was cut back on federal lands in the 1990s to protect fish and wildlife. Since then, automation has further reduced Oregon timber jobs, and counties have struggled to develop new economies and persuade voters to increase taxes to make up for the loss of timber payments.

Wyden and DeFazio said they had pressed the Obama administration for months to reverse policy on applying budget cuts to the timber county subsidies. They have also each come up with legislation to increase logging on federal lands in Western Oregon, known as the O&C lands, to increase jobs and federal payments to counties. Both bills are expected to fall far short of replacing the money from Secure Rural Schools or matching the revenues produced in the 1970s, before federal environmental legislation that protects endangered species and clean water.

“These timber payments are a lifeline for rural timber communities, so it’s a relief that counties hanging on by a thread won’t have to worry about even more slipping away this year,” Wyden said in a statement.

DeFazio said: “This is obviously good news for rural Oregon counties struggling to keep deputies on the roads and criminals in jail.” He also said he would continue to press the Forest Service to return funds cut from last January’s payment.

Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson said the money would go back into budget reserves that have helped maintain public safety services.

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