Above: Map courtesy of Associated Press
(Washington, DC) The Bush administration on Friday identified more than 300,000 acres of national forest - including about 85,000 acres in California - that it believes should be sold to raise revenue for services in rural areas across the country.
The plan, which requires congressional approval, would use money from the sales to replace proposed cutbacks of federal dollars that now help pay for schools and roads.
"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."
If Congress fails to 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 percentage of timber sales on these federal lands.
Celia Boddington, spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said much of the land is near urban areas with high market value.
"Lands formerly remote are now abutting metro areas," said Boddington. "That is certainly the case in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah."
Environmentalists believe that any short-term gains would be more than offset by the loss of public lands.
"I am outraged, and I don't think the public is going to stand for it for one minute," said Wilderness Society policy analyst Mike Anderson. "It's a scheme to raise money at the expense of the national forests, the wildlife, recreation and all the other values that Americans hold dear. It's the ultimate threat to the national forest."
The drive to privatize is also at play here; the neo-conservative advisors to the president are true believers in unfettered free markets.
There are some facets of life, however, that should be above the whims of the market. Congress should recognize that this plan is a short-sighted scheme motivated solely by the huge budget deficits this administration has created, and should not succumb to the call of the Sirens for a quick billion in revenue.