Sunday, February 12, 2006

Burning Furniture To Stay Warm

Oklahoma Land Rush, 1893

"More than one-sixth of the land proposed for sale, 55,862 acres, is in the Southeast although the majority of the nation's public land is in the West."

-- Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer

Having ruined the federal government's financial health in just three budget years, setting us on course for $2.58 trillion dollars in budget deficits over the next three years, George Bush now has decided to throw the nation's furniture into the furnace to keep warm.

As U.S. Rep. Mark Udall (D-Co.) remarked to the Denver Post, that’s "like selling your homestead to pay your credit cards.”

Bush didn't mention this in his State of Union address, but tucked away in his FY 2007 budget request was an administration proposal to sell off over 300,000 public forest lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Bureau of Land Management also will be selling 125,000 acres or more.

The breadth of the $1 billion land sale is unprecedented. The federal government hasn't sold off so much public lands at once since the Cherokee Outlet Land Rush of 1893.

The ostensible reason for the sale is to "help pay for rural schools and roads, making up for a federal subsidy that has been eliminated from President Bush's 2007 budget," according to Los Angeles Times reporter Janet Wilson. Historically, the federal government has made annual payments in lieu of real estate taxes to rural areas where the tax base is diminished by the presence of large national forests, parks, military bases, and other U.S. land holdings.
Bush intends to eliminate those subsidies forever. Proceeds from the proposed forest land sales would partially and temporarily cushion the blow while he is in office.

As David Albersworth of the Wilderness Society told the New York Times, however, in reality the Bush plan is nothing more than "a billion-dollar boondoggle to privatize treasured public lands to pay for 'tax cuts to the rich.'"

The New York Times has a state by state breakdown of the proposed land sales. Not surprisingly, it shows Western states will suffer the greatest aggregate losses in public lands, according to the Seattle Times.

The Columbus, Georgia, Ledger-Enquirer points out, however, that while "the Southeast has the lowest percentage of public forest land in the country" it will take "the biggest hit proportionally" from Bush's proposal. "More than one-sixth of the land proposed for sale, 55,862 acres, is in the Southeast although the majority of the nation's public land is in the West."
On the auction block, among others, are nearly 1,800 acres in central Mississippi's Bienville National Forest. Ironically, the same week Bush was proposing to sell off Bienville forests, the State of Mississippi was celebrating Arbor Day and worrying about reforestation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In Alabama, the U.S. Forest Service would sell 3,220 acres from the Bankhead, Conecuh and Talladega national forests. Less than 1,000 acres of national forest land in brother Jeb's Florida will be up for sale.

David Albersworth of the Wilderness Society told the New York Times the plan at bottom is "a billion-dollar boondoggle to privatize treasured public lands to pay for 'tax cuts to the rich.'"

The Southern Evironmental Law Center agrees. In a news release, the SELC maintains --

[S]elling off America’s natural heritage is not the way to fund government services. This move would set a dangerous precedent for years to come. It’s a reversal from the agency’s long-standing effort to add to the national forest system by acquiring important tracts that serve an ecological or recreational purpose. Particularly in the South, where the population is growing, along with the demand for outdoor recreation of all kinds, we need more national forest lands, not less.

* * *
These public lands belong to all citizens, and to all future generations. The Bush Administration ought not to be putting the public’s land up for sale to meet its budgetary obligations.

There are several signs the administration's proposal was thrown together and stuffed in the budget at the last minute. Even now, the Bureau of Land Management cannot say how many acres it will auction off or where they are located. The U.S. Forest Service is unable to provide on its web site more than four 'sample maps' of a few of the areas proposed for sale. And the administration says it can't publish formal notice in the Federal Register until the end of the month at the earliest.

Even the Cato Institute apparently hasn't had time to receive G.O.P. talking points. One of the Institute's callow ideologues by the name of Jerry Taylor, an under-educated Poli Sci major with a B.A. from Iowa who heads their "natural resources" department and claims to be an "expert", automatically spoke up in favor of the Bush proposal. Under it, he said, "Private property will end up in the possession of those who value it the most."

What's that again, Jerry? A national forest? Private property? What do you suppose they're putting in the Kool-Aid at the Cato Institute?

1 comment:

Bryan said...

This is the same dodge Reagan used to cover his deficits for a while, selling of Federal assets.

Next there will increases in "user fees" for parks but not for industry.