Sale of forest land is misguided

Thursday, March 9, 2006

A proposal put forth by the Bush Administration to sell off more than 300,000 acres of national forest land should be an issue of local concern. Of the total land to be sold, 21,566 acres would come from Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest and approximately 1,000 acres is located in Barry County.

The Mark Twain National Forest, Roaring River State Park and Table Rock Lake are major contributors to this area's natural beauty. Tourists are drawn to our area, because of the acres upon acres of untouched forest land and the proliferation of wildlife that it supports. To let any of this precious land go from public to private ownership would be a crime. It's time American citizens stood up to the federal government and demand that they leave public land alone. It's important that average American citizens have access to public land for hiking, camping, biking, hunting and other forms of recreating. Very few people can afford to buy their own land and instead rely on the use of public land to pursue their outdoor interests. Once again, the federal government seems removed to the needs and wishes of the common man.

We know the need to fund rural schools is strong, but selling off forest land would be a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Once the land is sold, there's no going back. Development is creeping into the countryside from all directions, and we believe it's important to leave certain parts of this country off limits to developers and commercial interests. It's the only way we'll maintain this area's beauty and ensure future generations can enjoy it as much as we do.

This plan is also poorly conceived, because according to recent analysis, the sale of Missouri land would be among the largest in the U.S. and in return, the state would receive one of the lowest shares of school funding. The general gist of this study contends that schools in three West Coast states would be the main beneficiaries of the federal land sale while schools in the Midwest and South would receive five times less. Over 100,000 acres of forest land would be sold in the Midwest and South as compared to just 18,000 acres in Oregon and Washington. Now how is that fair? It's not.

The Bush Administration needs to back off and take another look at this plan. We know the proposal would never have advanced to the public comment stage if more forest land was to be sold along the West Coast. Our oaks and dogwoods need just as much protection as California's Redwood forests.

When we first heard about the proposed land sale, we tried to gain some more information from the U.S. Forest Service website set up to handle public comment. The site was difficult to navigate and the listing of tracts to be sold was impossible to decipher. Based on the maps and information provided on the site, it is impossible to determine where the tracts of land are located. In order to enter into an educated debate on the proposal, it's important to know how we are going to be affected locally. As best as we can tell, a little over 1,000 acres of forest land in Barry County would be sold. We are not alone in our frustration. Luckily, Senator Jim Talent felt the same way, and he is on a campaign to get more information out on the issue. It would definitely make sense to at least extend the public comment beyond March 30, or scrap the misguided plan in its entirety.

We encourage all Barry County residents to get informed and then make your views known. Comments can be mailed to: USDA Forest Service, SRS Comments, Lands 4S, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Mailstop 1124, Washington, D.C., 20250-0003; faxed to 201-205-1604; or e-mailed to SRS_Land_ It also wouldn't hurt for you to contact Rep. Roy Blunt and Senators Kit Bond and Jim Talent about the matter. Don't sit idly by and let the federal government sell our public land.