Title III funds to be awarded for local forest activities

The Colusa County Board of Supervisors has received two requests for federal funds authorized last spring by President Donald J. Trump.

The President reauthorized Title III funds from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for two more years when he signed the 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill on March 23.

The Colusa County Sheriff’s Department asked for $15,000 of the funding, and the Colusa County Resource Conservation District has asked for $10,000.

Congress enacted SRS in 2000 to provide funding for rural counties and school districts to replace revenue from dwindling forest receipts due to a national decline in timber harvesting.

Authorized uses of the money have included activities related to wildfire protection, firefighting, law enforcement patrol, search and rescue, and other emergency services on federal lands, said Colusa County Chief Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler.

Tyler said the reauthorization this year allows also for equipment purchases related to the law enforcement activities on federal lands.

California has about 20.8 million acres of forested land and receives about $28.4 million annually from the federal government. The county and school districts share in federal funding paid on 68,082 forested acres within the Mendocino National Forest, which amounts to about $85,000 annually or $1.26 per acre, less than half of what was allocated in the Act’s earliest years, according to information available on the U.S. Forest Service website.

When first enacted SRS provided nearly $60 million annually to California’s forested counties, with half of the funding allocated to school districts, and half of the funding allocated to counties for county roads, the USFS reports.

Tyler said that while Trump reauthorized the Act for two more years, the law extends the date by which Title III projects must be initiated to Sept. 30, 2020, and also sets a deadline of Sept. 30, 2021 for the money to be obligated.

“These deadlines apply to all unobligated Title III funds, including Title III funds under the current authorization of the SRS Act and Title III funds received under the previous authorization,” Tyler said.

The county currently has about $88,000 in unobligated Title III funds that have accumulated over the years, Tyler said, which prompted the county to seek proposals for projects.

Patti Turner, Colusa County RCD executive director requested $10,000 to facilitate the development of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which will cover all privately-owned land within the western portion of Colusa County.

The RCD will also investigate the interest or need of forming a Fire Safe Council for the same area.

“The CCRCD envisions the plan will help to prevent damaging wildfires, protect life and property, and restore wildfire-impacted areas to maintain ecosystem heath, services and public safety,” Turner proposed.

Turner said with a Community Wildlife Protection Plan, the RCD would also enable Colusa County to seek additional funding for future projects.

Colusa County Assistant Sheriff Jim Saso said the Sheriff’s Department plan for the $15,000 is to reimburse the county for search and rescue incidents and law enforcement in the forest, and use a portion to purchase equipment or cover search and rescue/law enforcement training.

Tyler said both proposals are eligible, and recommended the Board of Supervisors fund both projects.

The board will take public comments on the proposals until Nov. 9, and will make their decision at a public hearing on Nov. 13.