Counties Stand To Lose Federal Forest Payments - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

05/19/08 - East Texas

Counties Stand To Lose Federal Forest Payments

by Donna McCollum

Forest trails through four national forests meander through east Texas counties and lead to numerous cities ,towns and schools. If forest reserve payments aren't re authorized soon, twelve east Texas counties will see a total loss of almost five million dollars. Houston County Judge Lonnie Hunt said,  " Probably the hardest hit counties are Houston, Sabine, Trinity, Shelby, but it's also significant amount of money for Angelina county and a number of other counties around the area. "

There are 94,000 acres of the Davy Crockett National Forest in Houston County. The headquarters is down the street from Ratcliff, a town that depends solely on a nearby recreational area. School bus stops are located under forest canopies. The same forest that generates about one million dollars in forest reserve payments. Half the amount goes toward county roads to serve rural communities. The other half is divided between five small school districts,   including Kennard ISD where about 340 students go to school. The district depends on about $155,000 in forest reserve payments. That's enough to pay three teachers. Superintendent Gary Jacobs said, " We're in the same situation all the other districts in this area. We can't afford to give up that much money and we feel like we been told through congress that we're entitled to the money. "

The National Forest Counties and School Coalition fought hard to convince Congress to approve a multi year extension of the law that authorizes payments. The act was in the Energy Bill. It failed.

As preparation for another school year begins, there's no guarantee of future payments.  This summer school administrators will be working on their budget. Unfortunately they'll have to include a 'what if' line. " Jacobs said,  " We would like to be able to count on it, but now with the situation we're in we can't count on it. I don't want us to have to lose staff or programs by any means. " The U.S. Forest service is joining county judges and school superintendents in their effort to restore funding. The forests won't go away, but they know the funding for roads and schools could.

For more information about efforts to get the necessary legislation go national forest counties and schools coalition http://www.forestco.net  

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