Selling forest land

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The dime-for-a-dollar proposal to sell 21,566 acres of the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri is being opposed by U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson -- most of the land is in her congressional district -- and by both of the state's U.S. senators -- Kit Bond and Jim Talent -- and by Gov. Matt Blunt.

Their reason? For every dollar of national forest in Missouri sold under the Bush administration's plan to raise money for rural schools in 41 states, Missouri would receive about 10 cents, or $2.64 million. The governor also disputes the U.S. Forest Service's claim that the land proposed for sale is not prime forest. Indeed, Blunt says, the land is highly valued by outdoor enthusiasts.

The plan to sell up to 200,000 acres of national forest across the nation is to raise $800 million for funding to rural schools that have relied in the past on U.S. timber sales. Under the proposed formula, for example, only 10,581 acres of national forest would be sold in Oregon, but that state would get $260 million for its rural schools.

There is bipartisan opposition to the proposed sale of national forest for rural schools. One reason is that selling federal land is a one-time fix for the schools that depend on federal funding. Where will those schools get money for future years? From selling more national forest?

There are two issues here. One is whether it is prudent to sell national forest land -- for any reason. The second is whether states should reap the benefits of any such sales based on the amount of national forest being sold within their borders. It's clear that Missouri's officials see the formula for dispersing proceeds from such sales as the key issue.

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