WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is proposing to sell
up to 307,000 acres of National Forest in 32 states to
developers to subsidize schools in timber country.
The Forest Service hopes to generate $800 million over
five years from the sale of isolated parcels that are
difficult for foresters to manage, said Mark Rey,
undersecretary of Agriculture for natural resources and
More than one-quarter of the acres being considered for
sale are in California, with 85,465 acres. Idaho is next
with 26,194 acres followed by Colorado, 21,572 acres, and
Missouri, 21,566 acres.
The Forest Service plans to publish maps of the proposed
sale areas on its Web site Feb. 28 and take comments on
which ones to remove.
"We want everyone to be comfortable with every half-acre
that stays on the list," said Rey, who expects they would
eventually sell between 150,000 and 200,000 acres of the 193
million acres of Forest Service land.
But the plan has to pass Congress and that may not be
easy. It is opposed by a coalition of environmental groups
and some key western senators have reservations.
"Public lands are an asset that need to be managed and
conserved," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said it is a "short-sighted,
ill-advised and irresponsible shift in federal land
management policy' that would hurt hunters, anglers,
campers, foresters, cattlemen, miners and other users of
One of Bingaman's objections is that the isolated plots
cited by Rey are often used in swaps with private landowners
or counties to obtain land adjacent to the National Forests.
Congress approves those deals on a case-by-case basis.
"Our public lands are a legacy for future generations. We
shouldn't liquidate that legacy," said Bingaman.
Rey responded that the Forest Service would still have
plenty of parcels to swap and will continue to add land at
the rate of about 115,000 acres a year.
If Congress doesn't approve the plan it would have to
come up with another revenue source for payments to rural
school systems that for 92 years have received a cut from
timber sales on federal lands.
With those sales declining, Congress in 2000 authorized
payments from the general treasury through the end of this
Rey said the administration wants to continue the aid for
another five years "to make sure our rural school systems
don't fall apart."
(E-mail brosnanj(at)shns.com or visit www.shns.com.)