CENTRAL POINT, Ore.– It was a day of celebration for Congressman Greg Walden and rural Oregon counties.
In a continuing effort to support rural communities, Walden announced at a press conference on Saturday at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, he had secured two full years of Secure Rural Schools funding.
“Secure Rural Schools is really important not only for law enforcement and schools but also for county roads and other basic services,” said Walden.
It wasn’t just about securing funding for the program itself though. The funding measure also includes management reform aimed at reducing the threats of wildfires on federal forest land and the cost of fighting fires itself for forest services.
“We’ll pay for fighting fire much like we do other disasters,” said Walden. “Therefore, the money that the forest service has to do work in the woods, to reduce fuel loads and other efforts they engage in, can continue rather than being stopped every summer.”
County commissioners in attendance agreed that after last year’s wildfire season, federal lands had been horribly mismanaged.
“The mismanagement of our public lands has created all the disasters – both funding for counties and the fire issues,” said Colleen Roberts, Jackson County commissioner. “So it’s kind of a three wheel issue that’s being addressed all in one.”
The commissioners said they were very pleased with this final outcome. According to Tim Freeman, president of the Association of O&C Counties – an organization of 18 counties that works to manage federal lands – this was a welcoming sight and described why it was important for the organization.
“O&C dollars are used for other things too like public health and mental health,” he said. “We use them for a variety of services through the counties like libraries and parks and livability within our counties. These dollars are very important and the Secure Rural School dollars are in place because we are not managing the forest like we should be.”
According to Representative Walden, extensions to these funds were made possible after he authorized the sale of eight million barrels of the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve. This falls under the jurisdiction of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which Walden is the chairman of.
With this funding Oregon is expected to receive for it’s 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, $56 million and $80 million, respectively.
Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Lake county will all together receive around $13 million for 2017. For the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, it was much appreciated.
“Changes to the bill are gonna improve our ability to train our troops and our volunteers,” said Sheriff Nathan Sickler. “It’s gonna be a welcome addition to the funding in Jackson County.”
Freeman couldn’t agree more.
“This was a monumental task to approve Secure Rural Schools with management in it,” he said. “We cannot overstate how much we appreciate the fine work that was done in this bill.”