Bye trees


Feb. 11, 2006, 12:26AM
Bush team seeks to sell land

By JANET WILSON
Los Angeles Times (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/3651464.html)




The Bush administration Friday laid out plans to sell off more than $1 billion in public land during the next decade, including 85,000 acres of National Forest property in California.
Most of the proceeds would help pay for rural schools and roads, making up for a federal subsidy that has been eliminated from President Bush's 2007 budget.
Congress must approve the sales, which several experts said would amount to the largest sale of its kind since President Theodore Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 and created the modern national forest system.
"This is a fire sale of public lands. It is utterly unprecedented," said Char Miller, professor of environmental history at Trinity University in San Antonio, who has written extensively about the Forest Service. "It signals that the lands and the agency that manages them are in deep trouble." The U.S. Forest Service has earmarked more than 300,000 acres for sale in 32 states.
In a companion proposal inserted into this week's massive 2007 budget, White House officials directed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials to sell off at least $350 million worth of public land, with the funds to go directly to the general treasury.

High-ranking agriculture officials said Friday the national forest lands selected for sale are "isolated, expensive to manage, and no longer meeting forest service system needs," and do not include wilderness areas or habitat vital to wildlife.
"Is selling off Bitterroot National Forest or the Sierra National Forest or Yellowstone National Park a good idea? No, not in general," said Under Secretary Mark Rey. "But I challenge these people who are engaging in this flowery rhetoric ... to take a hard look at these specific parcels and tell me they belong in national forest ownership."
While acknowledging the proposed sale would be the largest of its kind in decades, and possibly ever, Rey said the national forest system has swelled to 193 million acres, and the amount sold would amount to less than one-tenth of a percent.
Rey added: "Education of rural school children, that's an investment in the nation's future as important as any other investment we could make. That purpose justifies the approach we're proposing."
Rey said the sales are necessary because it was impossible to find enough funds elsewhere in a declining Forest Service budget to make up for the loss of the school and road subsidies. He said the property sold would be subject to fair market appraisals.
The Forest Service's total proposed budget for 2007 is $4.1 billion, down about $160 million from 2006.

The public will have 30 days to comment after maps of the acreage proposed for sale are published, which the agency expects to do by the end of the month. Some parcels might be removed after public comment if they are deemed too valuable to lose. Several Congress members condemned the proposed sales, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who called the sales "a terrible idea based on a misguided sense of priorities."
Feinstein said that while funding of rural schools and roads should continue, it should not be financed by the sale of public lands.
Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican who chairs the subcommittee that will take up the matter, was more guarded. He said that while he was "very pleased" that the president included funding for rural counties, "I do have preliminary concerns. ... Public lands are an asset that need to be managed and conserved."