Testimony

 


TESTIMONY OF
MARK REY, UNDER SECRETARY
NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

BEFORE THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
UNITED STATES SENATE

March 8, 2005


CONCERNING


S. 267 - A Bill to Reauthorize P.L. 106-393, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 and S. 179 - Sierra National Forest Land Exchange Act of 2005

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to present the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on S. 267, a bill to reauthorize P.L. 106-393, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 and S. 179, the Sierra National Forest Land Exchange.


S. 267 – The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2005

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2005, P.L. 106-393 (“Secure Rural Schools Act”) embraces three objectives: 1) to establish a stable payment for schools and roads that supplements other available funds; 2) to make additional investments in public and adjacent private lands; and 3) to improve the cooperative relationships among the people who use and care for federal lands, and the agencies who manage them. The Act authorizes payments for FY 2001-2006.

S. 267 would reauthorize P.L. 106-393 for an additional seven years and would amend other provisions of the Act. The bill would clarify that states must notify the Secretary of Treasury of their counties elections to receive their share of either the 25 percent payment or the full payment amount. The bill would provide an opportunity for counties to return to the 25 percent payment if they wish to do so (currently, if a county elects to receive its share of the states full payment amount, the county may not changes its election). Additionally, S. 267 would clarify the source of payments to be reserved by the Secretary of the Treasury to make payments to the states and would revise the conditions for appointments of Resource Advisory Committee members to provide greater flexibility. S. 267 also would revise the merchantable material pilot program to authorize projects under this program if they are recommended by RACs. Finally the bill would add notification and reporting requirements for the Secretary regarding county projects under Title III of P.L. 106-393.

Our experience in implementing the Secure Rural Schools Act has shown that a stable payment to States has been achieved, the establishment of Resource Advisory Committees (RACs) has created a cooperative working relationship with local communities and the Forest Service in implementing projects under Title II of the Act, and these projects have had a positive impact on improving natural resource conditions on National Forests and Grasslands.

Receipts have not been sufficient to cover the payments required to be paid under the Secure Rural Schools Act. However, the Act requires any shortfall to be paid out of funds in the Treasury. The Administration could support S. 267, if amended with agreed upon savings that fully offset the cost of the bill in FY 2007 and beyond, and if the bill is amended to incorporate other changes. The Administration will be happy to work with the committee and the budget committees of the House and Senate to identify offsets.


Amendments to S. 267

The Administration would like to continue to work with the subcommittee on recommended changes to the proposed legislation that would improve the legislation. For example, we recommend that section 2(c) of the bill be removed and we oppose the inclusion of the notification and reporting requirements regarding county projects under Title III of the Secure Rural Schools Act as described in Section 2(f) of the bill. We have concerns about this provision as it requires the Secretary to monitor and report on the use of these funds. We would also like to work with the Committee on other technical and substantive amendments which the Administration will be providing.


S. 179 The Sierra National Forest Land Exchange Act of 2005

The Department supports S. 179. Evaluation of the properties was previously conducted. Based on this valuation and resource analysis, the Administration believes the public is receiving above market value for the Federal property. S. 179 authorizes the exchange of 160 acres of Federal land on the Sierra National Forest in California for 80 acres of non-Federal land within one year of the date of enactment. The bill would provide for the exchange of a private in-holding for two isolated parcels of federal land, thus improving management efficiency for the Sierra National Forest.

An existing federal hydropower project is located on a portion of the federal parcel. The federal parcel is adjacent to and also partially inundated by Shaver Lake. The lake is part of the Big Creek System that produces up to 1,056 megawatts of electricity. The Boy Scouts of America operate a scout camp on land adjacent to the federal parcel and conduct some of their activities on the Sierra National Forest for which they have a special use permit.

S. 179 specifies that the value of Federal land is $250,000 and the value of the non-Federal land is $200,000. The bill gives the Secretary the authority to accept a cash equalization payment equal to 20 percent of the value of the Federal land or 25 percent of the value of the non-Federal land. The conveyance would be subject to a condition that the recipient of the Federal land would agree to convey the land, within four months to the Sequoia Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Under section 3(a)(1) of the bill, the conveyance would also be made subject to valid existing rights. These valid existing rights would include the terms of the easement required under section 4(b).

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have for me at this time.