Funds secured for 2012 Gifford Pinchot to-do list

Projects include road and trail work, weed removal, new bridge

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

Gifford Pinchot National Forest officials have lined up more than $888,000 in continuing and new projects for next year funded by the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

But with the federal program that provides money to timber-dependent counties set to expire this month, 2012 marks the last year of national forest work under the latest authorization.

For the Gifford Pinchot, this year’s project list includes work on forest roads, trails, noxious weed eradication, visitor centers and student work crews.

“It allows us to do projects or partner up on projects that we may not be able to get done,” said Chris Strebig, public affairs director with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. “We certainly wouldn’t get as many done.”

Most of the 20 Gifford Pinchot projects slated for next year are on the south side of the forest — a list that includes weed removal in three different counties, funding for the Pine Creek visitors center and replacement of a bridge along the Fossil Trail. Just over $100,000 of the money will pay for a Skamania County jail work crew, with another $178,000 going to the Skamania County Forest Youth Success program.

Those work programs are invaluable to maintaining the forest, but also go a long way in helping the workers on the ground, Strebig said.

“Not only are they getting work done in the forest, but they are learning job skills and getting a paycheck,” he said.

On the north side of the forest, the largest allocation ($129,617) will go to road maintenance in the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District.

National forests receive Title II funds under the program, which are used for projects chosen by local resource advisory committees. Those are separate from Title I funds, which go more directly to county governments.

In the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, two committees pick projects for the north and south sides. Projects often carry over from year to year, but must re-apply for funding each time around, said partnership coordinator Sue Ripp.

Federal timber payments don’t cover the entire cost of most work in the Gifford Pinchot forest. Other local agencies usually provide money of their own or donated resources and labor, Ripp said.

The future of the Secure Rural Schools program remains uncertain. County timber payments have been in jeopardy in the past, only to be renewed at the 11th hour. Payments have undergone gradual, scheduled decreases since the last renewal in 2008.

The Title II program has delivered about $18 million to Gifford Pinchot National Forest since 2000, according to forest officials.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.