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House Committee on Resources 6/15/05
Growth of the Federal Estate, Its Impacts To Be Discussed
Washington, DC - Federal land management agencies oversee an estimated 671 million acres of lands in the United States. As the federal estate continues to grow, maintenance backlogs expand and rural communities continue to suffer from limited tax bases.
The Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health will hold an oversight hearing on Impacts of Federal Land Ownership on Communities and Local Governments. The hearing will be today in 1324 Longworth House Office Building at 3:30 p.m..
"As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to provide our federal land managers with the tools necessary to ensure that America's vast tracts of public lands are managed in an effective, efficient and responsible manner, while also working collaboratively with local communities to also ensure their well-being," said Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). "My district is 72,000 square miles - half of which are publicly owned - and it contains nine national forests and four Bureau of Land Management Districts. As a result, I know that aside from recreational and environmental benefits, publicly owned land provides obstacles for local governments and communities surrounded by these federally owned areas. I regularly hear from community leaders about issues they face in maintaining basic services such as schools, hospitals, libraries, police and fire departments, and other essential programs needed to maintain a viable community"
The subcommittee will examine the impacts continued growth in the federal estate will have at the local levels. From FY 2000 through FY 2004, the BLM disposed of 660,186 acres in the continental United States while acquiring 952,703 acres that contributed to a net gain of nearly 300,000 acres. In that same time period the Forest Service had a net gain of nearly half a million acres.
"As Uncle Sam acquires more land, it's no myth that surrounding communities with limited tax bases struggle to provide basic community services," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). "Understanding this relationship and its impact on rural communities is critical. I want to thank Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden for holding this hearing."
Because local communities cannot collect taxes on the federal lands or sell or lease the acreage to generate revenue, local government functions are often under funded or non-existent. Congress has acted to offset these impacts by passing laws such as Payments in Lieu of Taxes Act of 1976 (PILT) and The Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act of 2000 among others. However, even when implemented these laws have failed to equal the loss of taxable revenues.
In addition, federal land managers have been unable to keep up with maintenance needs on the existing land base. The Forest Service and BLM estimate that nearly 190 million acres of land are at high risk of catastrophic fire. Furthermore, both agencies still have hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance backlogs, despite significant progress in appropriations for eliminating those backlogs.
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