Around 309,421 acres of national park land in timber-heavy states could be up for sale as part of a budget-saving plan by the Bush administration designed to reduce cuts for rural schools and roads, according to a report in the Spokesman Review, Spokane.
California stands to have 85,000 acres of national forest sold. Idaho comes in second in terms of acreage, with more than 11,000 acres – about 17 square miles – while the program has designated around 7,500 acres in Washington State. If approved, the land would be appraised and put on the market.
Included in the sale are prime recreation sites near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and 160 mountainous acres once used by Indian tribes for sacred vision quests.
Local Forest Service employees said they had been directed not to comment on the proposal, but all expressed surprise at the properties included. Perhaps the biggest shock was the inclusion of 360 acres of developed trails at Hayden Lake’s English Point, which is about 15 minutes from Coeur d’Alene and is a popular spot for hikers, skiers and horseback riders.
The Forest Service has supplied only legal descriptions of the parcels, but the agency will release digitized maps by the end of the month. When the maps are released, the agency will take 30 days of public comment.
The vast majority of the tracts are isolated parcels of national forest that are expensive to manage, according to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey.
“These are not the crown jewels we’re talking about,” Rey said. “This is a reasonable proposal to take a small fraction of a percentage of national land, which is the least necessary, and use it for those in need.”
The Bush administration hopes to raise as much as $1 billion through the program, which it will use to help wean rural counties off “county payments” over the next five years. The payment program has been in place since 2000 to help communities with timber-based economies weather large scale decreases in logging on national forest land.
Critics say even isolated parcels of national forest are valuable. The Forest Service often uses the tracts in land swaps to secure wildlife habitat. Surrounded by private land, the acreage also provides recreation opportunities for some communities.