Who Should Pay for National Forest Thinning?
Sharon’s 10/29 4FRI post reports on “a $10 million bond issue to raise money to support forest-thinning projects,” primarily on national forest lands within the watershed from which Flagstaff’s municipal water is piped.
The article mentions two examples of local financing for national forest thinning, but in neither case did taxpayers approve the financing. In both (Denver and Santa Fe), water utility boards decided that ratepayers should pay for national forest work to protect watersheds. Santa Fe’s water board was sufficiently nervous about this modest ratepayer assessment that it has launched “the fee program as a public education opportunity—listing the charge on users’ water bills as a credit, with a note about the purpose of the expenditures.” In the meantime, Santa Fe is paying for the program with state dollars, borrowing against future severance taxes on private mineral and timber receipts.
On Nov. 6, we’ll know whether Flagstaff voters authorize the city to borrow money, repaid from future property taxes, to finance tree thinning and brush removal on national forests. To the best of my knowledge, this would be the first time that local taxpayers have voted directly to finance Forest Service work.
The Forest Service is watching this development with great interest as it seeks to diversify funding sources that have relied historically on federally appropriated tax dollars and timber receipts. The former is threatened by deficit concerns and the latter has all but dried up.
Question for the reader: Will local funding of national forest activities lead to more local control over national forest decisionmaking?