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Don't hold a fire sale for rural counties

From the Oregonian:

Don't hold a fire sale for rural counties 
Congress must find a way to supply rural county and school aid 
without selling off public lands 
Saturday, February 18, 2006
T he Bush administration's plan to sell off public lands to 
temporarily fund aid to counties and schools would leave both the 
U.S. Forest Service and rural counties weaker than they are today. 

The administration has compiled a list of more than 300,000 acres of 
federal land that it might put on the auction block. It wants to use 
proceeds from the sales, an estimated $800 million, as a source of 
funding for reduced federal aid to rural counties and schools. 

To put it plainly, the administration is proposing to sell public 
land in places like Oregon's Columbia Gorge just to provide a rural 
county like Hood River with half the federal aid it has received over 
the past six years. That's a nonstarter with the public, with the 
leaders of rural counties and with Congress. 

Given the huge federal budget deficit, we're prepared to concede that 
rural counties are going to have to settle for something less than 
the $1.5 billion that they have shared over the past six years. But 
Congress must search the budget to come up with more certain, and 
more appropriate, sources of funding than a fire sale of U.S. Forest 
Service lands. 

Conservation groups are already at full cry about the land sales, 
even though they have little or no idea what lands would be involved, 
or whether it makes sense for the Forest Service to own them. 

We're not opposed to the agency sorting through its enormous 
inventory of lands -- which has climbed from 191 million acres to 193 
million acres over the past decade -- and choosing to sell or swap 
some of the more isolated parcels. 

However, any sales or trades of public lands must be done with the 
goal of strengthening the national forest system, not just for a one-
time grab of cash. It's not inconceivable that it would even make 
sense to sell some of the smaller fragments of land the Forest 
Service owns in the Columbia Gorge, if there is other, more critical 
land in the gorge that the agency could then acquire. 

But that's not what's going on here. This isn't about making the 
national forest system stronger. It is about rounding up hundreds of 
parcels and tens of thousands of acres of public land for some cash 
to throw at rural counties. 

There must be a better way. Congress, led by the Oregon delegation, 
must find a more sensible and lasting revenue source for rural 
counties and schools. 

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