The Bush administration wants to hold a fire sale on our public lands. Will your grandchildren have places left to hunt? A report by Field & Stream conservation columnist Bob Marshall:
Even for an administration that takes perverse pride in sneering at the term "conservation," this latest news is a shocker: President Bush's 2007 budget includes an order to the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to sell off as much as 800,000 acres of national lands to generate money for public schools.
The proposal directs the agencies to raise nearly $1 billion for the federal treasury by selling more than 300,000 acres of national forest and up to 500,000 acres of BLM lands, mostly in western states. The sale was ordered to help fund a federal program that since 1908 has sent revenues from timber sales to rural counties to support, among other things, school programs. But as timber sales have steadily fallen over recent decades, the funding has dried up - so the administration wants to sell pieces of public recreation land to make up the difference.
Forest Service and BLM officials maintain most of the lands in question are small, isolated parcels, usually surrounded by private property and, hence, "difficult to manage." However the complete list of forest lands (http://www.fs.fed.us/land/staff/spd.html) shows most parcels are more than 40 acres and many are in the hundreds of acres. The BLM has not listed the lands it will sell.
That many of these acres are scattered among private land holdings makes them even more important to a sporting public that repeatedly lists "lack of access to habitat" as the main reason they're dropping out of hunting and shooting sports. For example:
Depending on the quality of habitat and the adjacent holdings, wild turkeys can flourish on as little as 400 acres (source)
Squirrels need as little as one acre (source)
Bobwhite quail can have a happy life on 40 acres (source)
Cottontail rabbits can flourish on 20 to 100 acres (source)
And many deer hunters would love to have the one square mile (640 acres) of home range whitetails seldom stray beyond (source)
While sportsman's groups have been largely silent on the issue, the proposal has drawn sharp rebukes from environmental groups and newspapers nationwide. Their two biggest concerns should make any hunter or angler very worried.
First, the proposal includes the first-ever directive to public land agencies to raise money by selling public property. Both the Forest Service and the BLM have been given targets of how much money must be raised and given to the general treasury. Clearly this sets a dangerous precedent - and makes prophets of environmental groups that have long claimed the Bush administration's goal is to sell public property, not manage it.
Second, the idea of selling assets to fund recurring expenses doesn't solve the problem, only creates an addiction that will require more sales in the future.
And while the administration says the sales will be subject to the public review process, it fails to mention that this process isn't a public vote. After an agency listens to the public's wishes, it will do whatever the administration tells it to - as this White House proved when it ditched the Roadless Rule in spite overwhelming opposition at public hearings.