Archived Opinion

So many reasons to oppose forest sale

“This is an administration that believes in natural resource exploitation, and hang any future cost to the public owners. This is not incompetence at work (as some might say, looking at Iraq or Katrina), but ideology, and these people are very good at what they do.”

— Bill Thomas, the Conservation Chair for the Pisgah Group of the Sierra Club

 

There are so many reasons to oppose the recent proposal to sell significant parcels of National Forest Service land that it’s difficult to believe that the idea will gain much traction in Congress. Just in case it does, however, opponents need to contact congressmen, the president, the secretary of agriculture and any other official who could help kill this measure before it gets serious consideration.

The proposal included in President Bush’s 2007 draft budget would sell nearly 200,000 acres of forest service land to raise about $800 million. Of that, about 6,500 acres are in the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests.

The money would be used in counties where a percentage of logging revenues have annually gone to school systems since the forest service was created in 1908. As the amount of logging on national forest service lands has been reduced, so to have the dollars going to the local school systems.

This proposal would allow the government to stop those payments altogether. To accomplish that, though, the Bush Administration proposes using the revenue from selling these tracts. The money, on average, would amount to about two years of the annual revenue, but it would be paid over 5 years. The Secure Schools and Self Determination Act passed in 2000 ensured schools would receive these revenues through 2005. This action would provide the money to local governments for another five years.

To begin with, the National Forest Service should not be in the business of selling land. People of different ideological beliefs can debate how much of this land managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be roadless wilderness areas or open for logging, but at least both of these outcomes leave the land as the property of the U.S. government. In essence, that means it belongs to all of us. As dozens of animal species and many more plants face threats from development and pollution, the U.S. government does not need to be helping this degradation.

Once sold, it’s easy to guess what will happen to these isolated tracts. Just step out onto any street in the mountains and look up. Those with big money will buy, and what we’ll have are gated estates or high-priced developments. Growth and development are not bad in and of themselves, but leaders in these mountains are having a difficult time developing innovative ways to manage growth without trampling on private property rights. The truth is that in the rural areas throughout America where these tracts are located, there are few land-use plans. Selling this land is a recipe for growth of the worst kind.

It’s hard to consider this proposal without weighing it alongside others from this administration that are short-sighted and ill-conceived. There’s no shortage of money to spend fighting terrorism and paying contractors like Haliburton to squander in far-flung countries half a world away, but in order to provide for our public schools we are forced to auction off our national heritage. It just doesn’t add up.

Perhaps the most tangible example of how bad this idea is comes from those who have quickly lined up to oppose it. It’s not often in Western North Carolina that hunters, anglers, environmentalists, hikers, mountain bikers, horsemen, locals and newcomers find themselves all on the same team. The truth is that in this part of the country, it’s hard to find anyone who believes this is a good idea.

That’s because it’s not.

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