JUNEAU, Alaska — The U.S. Forest Service plans to take a portion of the timber payments it has promised or paid out to 22 states, citing federal budget cuts.
Collection letters from Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell went out to governors around the country Monday, saying money would be taken from funds used for habitat improvement and other national forest-related projects that put people to work under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
Oregon stands to lose the most in the move, with nearly $4 million in reductions. That would leave the state with about $3.4 million under that program.
But Oregon's timber counties won't have to write a check, because the $4 million being demanded from Oregon is being deducted from a fund known as Title II, which pays for fish and wildlife habitat improvement projects on national forests.
Tidwell made it official in an Aug. 19 letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber.
California would lose nearly $2.2 million, leaving it with about $1 million for the program. Idaho is set to lose $1.7 million, Montana nearly $1.3 million and Alaska, about $930,000 — nearly half the total allotment it had been expecting.
Earlier this year, Tidwell sent letters to 41 states, asking for the return of $17.9 million in timber payments used to pay for schools, roads, search and rescue operations in rural counties and conservation projects. "We regret having to take this action, but we have no alternative under sequestration," Tidwell said in his letter to Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, dated March 19.
Alaska was given the option of having about $826,000 the state had received or expected under the act reduced from its so-called "Title II funds," for habitat improvement and other projects, or getting a bill for the money that already had been paid out under other sections of the act. Parnell refused, saying there was no basis in law for the request.
It wasn't immediately clear why the agency was taking a greater share of funds from Alaska now.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Forest Service was diverting $600 million from other areas to put toward wildland firefighting efforts.