One-year extension of federal timber payments passes U.S. House

Jackson County could get as much as $3.5 million in the one-year extension of timber payments passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Officials at the office of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said the bill is an amendment to the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act, H.R. 527. If the extension of the Secure Rural Schools program is passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Obama, it means about $100 million for 33 Oregon counties.

Rocky McVay of the Association of O&C Counties said the exact amount Jackson County would receive is not known, but he expects the number to be close to the $3.5 million the county received for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Those funds would likely be paid in January or February of 2014.

"The caveat to that is we don't know what they're going to do with the budget," McVay said.

Walden said the measure is a short-term solution, but that broader long-term solutions are needed to provide relief in rural communities.

"That help is a lifeline, not a lifeboat," Walden said of the extension from the House floor. "The status quo of asking Uncle Sam for a check year after year is simply not sustainable. However, managing our federal forests, generating jobs and revenue, that's sustainable."

Walden added he hopes the Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, passed last week by the House, would provide that long-term solution, utilizing forest management that would provide tax revenue for local schools and law enforcement.

"We need to help our forested communities get back to self-sufficiency and self-reliance, get people back to work in the woods," Walden said. "The clock's ticking. It's time to get this done."

The amendment to the extension is expected to pass in the U.S. Senate, which already passed the original version of H.R. 527 last week but has to take a second look at the minor tweaks made by the House, officials at Walden's office said.

The House's Committee on Natural Resources said in a news release that H.R. 527 is intended to preserve the U.S. helium supply by closing the Federal Helium Reserve and reducing the federal deficit by $90 million over 10 years.

— Ryan Pfeil

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