Nixon files objection to sale of forest land

Friday, March 31, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- Attorney General Jay Nixon said Thursday he is considering legal action against a Bush administration plan to sell more than 21,000 acres of Mark Twain National Forest.

In a letter to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, Nixon wrote that he is "steadfastly opposed" to the Bush proposal, calling it a "myopic approach to forest management and funding education."

Among his concerns, Nixon said the proposal doesn't require the Forest Service to "take a hard look" at the sale's environmental impact as required by federal law.

The proposed sale in Missouri is part of a plan under President Bush's proposed 2007 budget to sell more than 300,000 acres of national forest to help pay for rural schools in 41 states. The plan would funnel $800 million to the schools over the next five years.

But the way the proposal is structured, Missourians would bear a disproportionate burden, Nixon's office said. Many states are slated to receive more federal dollars while losing less in forest acreage than Missouri.

The state would collect only $2.7 million in revenue from the sale of 21,566 acres of Mark Twain National Forest, according to agricultural and environmental analysts in Nixon's office.

Nixon said that under the Bush plan, the Forest Service would evade federal requirements to consider the environmental effects of the sale. He said the plan doesn't consider the federal Endangered Species Act, adjacent state waters that need protection, or the forest's recreational value.

Endangered species

The Mark Twain provides habitat for several endangered species including the gray bat, the Indiana bat and the Hines emerald dragonfly. Nixon noted that Mark Twain forest planners previously have acknowledged pressure on the species and that habitat loss likely would accelerate in the hands of private landowners.

Nixon's office said there was nothing to prevent similar future sales to compensate for budget shortfalls.

Nixon is the latest Missouri official to line up against the Bush plan.

Gov. Matt Blunt has said he could not support the proposal when state schools would receive only a small percentage of the revenue.

Also, Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson -- all Republicans -- sent a letter to Rey opposing the plan. They called for an alternate source of funding that doesn't jeopardize the Mark Twain National Forest.

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