Paying for the BushCo Tax Cuts

Bush Administration Moves to Sell National Forest Land
by Seth Borenstein

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration will unveil a proposal Friday to sell up to 200,000 acres of national forest land in “isolated parcels” ranging from a quarter of an acre to 200 acres, much of it in California.

The sale is part of a National Forest Service plan to raise $800 million over the next five years to pay for rural schools in 41 states, offsetting shrinking revenues from sale of timber from national forests. The Bureau of Land Management also plans to sell federal lands to raise an estimated $182 million over five years.

Environmentalists charge that the short-term gain would be more than offset by the loss of public land. Congress would have to approve the land sales, but it has rejected similar recent proposals.

“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.”

Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said the proposed land sales make sense.

“Private property will end up in the possession of those who value it the most,” Taylor said. “That is an iron law of economics.”

Details about what plots of land would be put up for sale are expected to be revealed at a noon press conference by Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist. The Forest Service owns 193 million acres of land and plans to sell about 175,000 to 200,000 acres, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevitch.

“They could be theoretically from every national forest,” Valetkevitch said. “California has a lot on the list, I understand.”

The lands in question aren’t environmentally sensitive wilderness or protected scenic areas, Valetkevitch said. “It could be something that’s in a neighborhood that people don’t even know is forest land,” she said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., attacked the plan as “crazy,” saying: “Here the administration wants to pass more tax cuts for the rich, and to pay the bill, they want to sell off public land – our nation’s natural heritage.”

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