Earlier this year, the U.S. Forest Service proposed to sell tracts of federal forest lands, including over 21,000 acres of the Mark Twain National Forest (MTNF), to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
Under the plan, the Forest Service identified parcels of land they consider to be isolated and difficult to manage. About 304,000 acres of the 193-million-acre national forest system met the criteria. State and local governments as well as non-profit organizations would have the first opportunity to purchase the land at market value. Monies generated would be used to make payments to states and counties affected by declining revenues from timber harvested on federal lands.
Of concern to Farm Bureau is that the potential sale of more than 300 tracts of forest land in the 1.5-million-acre MTNF ranks among the largest of the 41 states including in the proposal, yet our schools and communities would not receive a propor-tionate share of the revenues.
Calling the plan "grossly inequitable," Senators Bond and Talent and Congresswoman Emerson opposed the Forest Service's plan and asked that a different strategy be devised to help fund rural schools. Due to their efforts and the concerns expressed by other legislators, the Forest Service has not moved forward with their plan.
Before this issue comes up again, perhaps we should remind ourselves of the source of the problem - the "hands-off" approach to managing our nation's forest which is, unfortunately, attributable in part to environmental extremists. This has hurt rural communities and led to devastating wildfires in Western states.
We have to do a better job of managing federal lands in a manner that promotes multiple uses, including the harvesting and processing of timber. Maybe then the government wouldn't have to consider selling tracts of federal land to fund legislative initiatives.
Charles E. Kruse,
Missouri Farm Bureau
Jefferson City, Missouri