SUMMIT COUNTY - With budgets getting tighter every year, the U.S. Forest Service plans to raise up to $800 million in much-needed cash by selling off 200,000 acres of land across the country, including three parcels in Summit County.The proposed land sale would be authorized under a Congressional amendment to the 2,000 Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. The law is intended to help rural communities that have seen National Forest logging-based revenue drop as timber cutting dwindled across the country.The news of the land sale came as a surprise to White River National Forest officials in Glenwood Springs, who said they were still reviewing the proposed measure. The directive came from the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters through the regional office in Denver, where lands specialists identified about 1,240 acres of White River forest land that could be sold to the highest bidder in a competitive sale process.The list is based in part on land ownership adjustment analyses that designate lands suitable for disposal. Most of the lands to be sold are parcels completely surrounded by private land or difficult to manage because they are surrounded on three sides by private land, according to White River National Forest spokesperson Kristi Ponozzo.Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton said that holds true for the three parcels in northern Summit County, in the vicinity of Green Mountain Reservoir. Newton said the three parcels are 40, 80 and 160 acres.Newton said the Dillon District is reviewing the three chunks of land to make sure they meet the criteria for sale, but said they had been previously identified for disposal. Dillon District lands specialist Paul Semmer said the 40-acre parcel is completely surrounded by the Shadow Mountain Ranch. The 160-acre parcel is a "long, skinny sliver" bordered on three sides by the Lazy Shamrock Ranch, while the 80-acre piece is off Acorn Creek Road near a small lot subdivision. Specifics for the sale process and for determining the value of the land haven't been established yet, he said.It's hard to get an exact handle on the potential value of those parcels, said Breckenridge real estate agent Art Girten, who is familiar with the Lower Blue. For the sake of comparison, Girten said one deal in the area saw 70 acres change hands for about $1 million. In a recent open space acquisition, Summit County paid about $100,000 for 40 "land-locked" acres, he said. The 80 acres near Acorn Creek Road is a steep hillside that has some access issues, he added. Selling the land takes it out of the pool of land available for land swaps, and that doesn't sit well with wilderness advocate Currie Craven, who said the proposal could open a "huge crack in the door" to additional land sales as advocated by some Republicans in Congress. A one-time sale generates some immediate cash, but the land is then gone forever, Craven said.While the total $800 million sounds impressive, Craven said it should be considered in the context of the overall federal budget."They spend $800 million in Iraq before breakfast," he said.Ponozzo said the proposed sale is still in its early stages, and that the White River forest will issue a public notice and take comments for 30 days. The sale will be set up to ensure the agency gets fair market value for the land through a competitive process, she said. Forest Service officials in Washington, D.C. said a detailed list of the parcels would be made available by the end of the week. None of the parcels are in wilderness or other protected areas, according to spokesman Dan Jiron.The national forest system encompasses about 193 million acres nationwide, and the agency doesn't expect a net loss of lands due to other ongoing acquisition programs. Since 1990, the agency has added about 2 million acres of land, Jiron said. Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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