The Bush administration's newest budget once again proposes selling off national forest lands to raise money for rural schools. More than 20,000 acres would be sold in Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest. Once again the state's congressional delegation has asked the forest service to keep its hands off. Proceeds from the sales would fund an extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act, a 2000 law that compensates local governments for revenue lost when timber harvests on federal lands were decreased. Most of those harvests were in the Pacific Northwest.
Seven Missouri representatives and both U.S. senators signed a letter to the Forest Service asking that the sale be reconsidered. U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Kansas City, did not sign the letter. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, thinks rural schools deserve a sound funding mechanism, not a one-time sale. She also isn't keen on the whole idea of selling off forest lands.
A similar proposal made at this time last year went nowhere, in part because some states were allotted less money than states that were selling less land. Under the new proposal, half the proceeds would have to remain in the state where the lands were sold.
The revised plan still has powerful opposition. In this case, the administration is having trouble seeing the forest for the trees.