Humboldt Journal of Social Relations


In 1908, Congress authorized payments to local governments, including counties and school districts, to compensate for the non-taxable status of the newly established forest reserves within their boundaries. The original program shared revenue generated from commercial activities on public lands, e.g. timber harvesting, not anticipating the major changes in the volume and types of activities on National Forest lands, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, that have played out over the past century. Two subsequent reforms – the appropriated Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) in 1976 and ‘transition’ payments made between 1990 and 2018, including payments associated with the Northwest Forest Plan and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) – have yet to deliver a permanent or effective policy solution that matches county payments to local governments’ economic needs or forest management objectives. This paper analyzes three policy options: a status quo option of PILT and revenue sharing payments; reauthorization of SRS; and the creation of a new permanent trust fund at the federal level. The paper concludes that the trust option (‘County Payments 4.0’) could resolve key challenges by stabilizing and growing revenue over time, eliminating the need for cycles of conditional appropriations, and providing flexibility to address economic and forest management needs in public land counties.

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