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Forest sale no way to fund schools

Sacramento Bee 

The Bush administration has sent the debate over the future of the national forests in a new and dangerous direction.

In his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, the president seeks to sell 85,000 acres of these public lands in California to help pay for a long-standing federal program that helps to fund rural schools. Selling permanent assets for an annual budget need is always a dubious proposition. This proposal to start liquidating the national forests, however, is beyond the pale.

For years, rural counties with sizable stands of national forests have gotten used to the federal government subsidizing the local school systems. These systems would receive a slice of the funds from the timber sales on the national forests.

Financially, the justification was to provide local governments with some of the bounty of the activities on the neighboring federal lands, which provide no local property taxes. Politically, this funding stream cemented local support for the local logging.

Of course, as the national forests were thinned of their largest trees and as timber sales decreased, this funding source began to fade. The rural communities have understandably sought to find some other federal source of funds to keep the money coming, and Congress has tried to oblige. This is where this new proposal by Bush, who is trying to cut nonmilitary parts of the budget, comes in.

To generate an estimated $800 million in one-time funds for the rural communities, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to sell these 85,000 acres in California. That would include more than 2,000 acres in the El Dorado National Forest, 32,921 in the Klamath National Forest, 14,041 in the Lassen National Forest and 19,437 in the Plumas National Forest. In all, the administration is eyeing as much as 300,000 acres of the national forests to be sold in the coming years.

Fortunately, bipartisan opposition to this liquidation plan is emerging. "Public lands are an asset that needs to be managed and conserved," said Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho.

Craig, a staunch pro-logging Republican, is right. This proposal should be dead on arrival.

Beyond that, it is time to question the entire notion of the federal government subsidizing certain rural school systems based on past resource extraction activities. If this program ended, the debate would shift to state legislators and their formulas for funding schools. That is where this debate belongs. As for the national forests, the debate should be over how to properly manage them, and not whether to sell them to help balance the next year's budget.

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

Tim Hermach 
Founder & President 
Native Forest Council 
PO Box 2190 
Eugene, OR  97402 
Fax 541.461.2156 

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