Entry for March 22, 2006

The picture above of Ora E. Anderson, from the new  Ohio Landscape Productions  film about the Wayne National ForestA Forest Returns: The Success Story of Ohio’s Only National Forest as Told by Ora E. Anderson.

Ironically, the Wayne is one of the targets for the President’s proposed “National Forest Land Conveyance for Rural Communities Act.”  Bush’s  fiscal year 2007 budget includes this plan have the Forest Service sell tracts of National Forest in order to fund  Public Law 106-393,  the “Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act” first signed by President Clinton in October 2000., which amended U.S. Code Title 16, Section 500 regarding payments to the states by the National Forest. 

As Mike Soraghan’s  February 7 Denver Post  article, “ Bush calls for sell-off of Western public land” quotes  Representative Mark Udall, (D-CO),   “It’s like selling your homestead to pay your credit cards.”

 Under the  current Act,  the federal government uses general appropriations to supplement  receipts from timber sales to support schools and roads in rural communities with national forest acreage. The Forest service website has a county-by-county breakout of payment levels from 2006.

The Act expires in September of 2006.  Bills were introduced to reauthorize the Act in the Senate (S.267.IS) and the House (H.R.517.IH ) in 2005. 

A copy of the remarks upon introduction are found in the the Congressional Record for February 2, 2005 on  Senate pages 898-9 .  The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests . held a hearing March 8.

In the House,  the bill was referred on February 2 to the Committee on Agriculture, and in addition to the Committee on Resources.  On March 15, The Agriculture’s  Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry took up the bill.  On February 16, the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health took up the measure and held a hearing  and a mark up session on May 18 and reported the billas report 109-117.  No further action was taken.

Rather than renewing the Act in its current form, the President proposes cut off the use of general appropriations and replace them with the sell off of federal lands.  According to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, the President’s proposal would “provide counties with about half the revenue they received for schools and roads during the previous five years.”

A table of the lands potentially for sale shows that as of today, 419 acres are listed in the Wayne.  Here in Virginia 5720 acres are listed in the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests.  The page is indexed by states if you scroll up to the top.

On February 28, the Forest Service issued a request for public comment in the Federal Registrar on page 10004.   Comments are due by March 30 by email at SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us, by facsimile to (202) 205-1604, or by mail to USDA
Forest Service, SRS Comments, Lands 4S, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., Mailstop 1124, Washington, DC 20250-0003.  Contact for more information is Assistant Director of Lands Cynthia R. Swanson who can be reached in the Washington Office by telephone at  202-205-0099.

February 9, the Wilderness Society has posted a news release.  Since that time it has added  a form to contact the Forest Service and one to contact Congress.  On March 16, it issued an analysis of  the land sale bill which emphasizes the following problems:

*No Public Participation and Environmental Review
*Minimal Restrictions on Lands for Sale
*Minimal Restrictions on Future Development

The National Environmental Trust (NET) posted its analysis of the sell off on February 17.  It includes not only sales by the Forest Service, but increased authority for the Bureau of Land Management to dispose of assets through the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act of 2000, Public Law 106-248.  NET  also posted reactions by legislators and others, last updated on March 1, as well as anoverall analysis of Bush’s F2007 budget.  

February 19,  George Lea, President of the Public Lands Foundation, weighed in against the proposed sale of Federal Lands in his column in the group’s newsletter.  The group has also Posted its critique of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act.

On March 13, the four living former chiefs of the Forest Service sent an open letter to all members of Congress.  “It should be clearly recognized that such an action would establish a precedent contrary to that of the last 102 years and enacts a change to existing law which forbids such action.

“The prime consideration is whether National Forest lands should be auctioned off for any for any other purpose beyond overall enhancement of the National Forest System? The coupling of a proposal for selling off public lands to fund other programs, no matter how worthwhile those programs, is a slippery slope that could, and likely would, be used to fund other worthwhile causes as time goes by and budgetary pressures increase. For that reason alone, we strongly recommend against taking this first step of auctioning off National Forest lands to pay for other government programs.”

Local governments have also been protesting the plan, according to such papers as the Colorado’s  Summit Daily News.  Smaller organizations such as the International Mountain Bicycling Association have also issued alerts.

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