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Sale of National Forest Land to Fund Rural Schools

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Members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice herein address the advisability of selling tracts of national forests to raise money to pay for other federal budget items; we outline the proposal, its background, and our POSITION on this issue.

BACKGROUND: Because local communities cannot tax federal property, isolated communities, surrounded by national forests, receive Federal funds to help pay for schools, roads and some other services. We believe that is fair and necessary. A percentage of national forest timber sale proceeds has, traditionally, funded these programs, but when the timber harvest declined in the 90s the money had to come from general revenues. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination (SRS) Act of 2000 provided that the funding to applicable counties would be based on historic levels of logging revenue. The bill is up for reauthorization in September, 2006.

President George W. Bush’s 2007 budget contains a legislative proposal to reauthorize SRS for an additional five years, this time funding it with revenues of approximately $800 million to be obtained by auctioning off between 150,000 and 300,000 acres of our national forests.

WE STRONGLY OPPOSE the president’s shortsighted proposal to permanantly dispose of national forest lands to fund short-term budget obligations.

The Forest Service has identified, for possible auction, 304,370 acres of national forest lands in 35 states that it deems isolated, expensive to manage or no longer meeting the forest system needs. Of that acreage, identified for possible sale, 21,566 acres are in Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest. Missouri would receive only $2.64 million in revenue while Oregon is slated to sell only 10,581 acres in exchange for $260 million for its rural schools. Only three states have more acreage targeted for sale than Missouri. Legislative action is required.

WE JOIN with Senators Bond and Talent and Missouri Governor Matt Blunt in their opposition to this proposal. Gov. Blunt said he could not support the proposal and challenged Forest Service claims that most of the land proposed for sale around the country is isolated, expensive to manage or no longer meets forest system needs. “In actuality, many of the tracts appear to be located in areas where land is accessible, utilized and and valuable,” Blunt said in a letter to the Forest Service Chief, Mark Rey.

WE STRONGLY URGE our federal legislators to stand up to President Bush and deny the sale of national forest land as a means to fund any government program, no matter how worthy.

WE BELIEVE that our national forests belong to all citizens and to all future generations. Our forests are part of our natural heritage. They provide beauty and recreation for humans, habitat for wildlife, aid in cleaning our water, and removal of CO2 from the air. To sell our public lands is to violate the national trust and ignore the well being of our citizens.