'Clear-cuts for kids'

  Dear HCN,

Karen Mockler's article, "Counties grab for control of national forests' (HCN, 12/20/99) alerted me to a pair of bills being debated in Congress. HR 2389, the "County Schools Funding Revitalization Act" already has passed the House of Representatives, and its companion piece with the brotherly name, "Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act" (S 1608), is in the Senate.

The bills are being promoted by the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, a wise-use advocacy group with "no dues, no office, and no members," according to a coalition spokesman. Organizers include Flathead County (Mont.) commissioner Dale Williams, who compared a forest supervisor to a Nazi; Montana Wood Products Association's Cary Hegreberg, who belittles forest supervisor Gloria Flora's concern about threats toward federal officials; and shovel-collector Jim Hurst, who sympathizes with wannabe anarchists in Nevada.

All are signatories to a set of "joint principles' that support legislation to "Make no changes to the Agricultural Reapportionment Act of 1908 ... specifically no "decoupling" of payments from actual gross receipts." Due to reduced timber harvest in the last decade, schools and counties which were reimbursed under the 1908 act have received greatly reduced federal payments. In an earlier bill rejected by the House, the Forest Service tried to "decouple" the tie between schools and logging by offering generous compensation to affected schools and counties out of the Treasury. For educators, it's a much better deal than they'll ever see again under the old 1908 statute, or under the legislation that passed the House and is sure to create new controversy and gridlock on our national forests.

The idea, however, is anathema to the timber industry. Although "schools don't need timber, timber needs schools." Continuing the link between timber receipts and education is vital to Big Timber's rationale of "Clear-cuts for kids," and they even duped National Education Association lobbyists to sign onto their principles.

But there is unrest among some members of the teachers' union, and the Montana Education Association president has written his colleagues in Washington, D.C., advising NEA leaders to decouple from the wise-use coalition. Educators should walk out of the wise-use coalition, and align with their natural allies in government and conservation groups.

Please urge your U.S. senators to remove the Title 2 county control clause from S 1608, and ask them to decouple schools from timber.

Gene Sentz

Choteau, Montana

Gene Sentz is a public schoolteacher and NEA member.

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