Forest Service land for sale?
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey fleshed out his proposal to sell 304,000 acres of national forest land, explaining in a conference call earlier this week that local governments and land trusts would get a chance to buy the parcels at fair market value, before they go on the auction block.
The parcels wouldn’t be put up for auction if local governments express interest in acquiring them, Rey said.
Altogether, the Forest Service identified 2,900 parcels in 31 states that could be sold over five years, raising about $800 million to fund rural schools. Revenues from the sale would replace the money local governments used to get as a share of timber harvesting fees.
Three Summit County parcels in the Lower Blue Valley totaling 280 acres are included in the proposal, which still must be authorized by Congress as part of the federal budget.
Dillon District lands specialist Paul Semmer said one of the parcels is 40 acres, 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.
Nearby in Clear Creek County, the list includes parcels near the Mount Evans scenic highway and near St. Mary’s Glacier, both popular scenic areas where any development proposals are likely to be unpopular.
Rey said the lands would be valued under a uniform federal appraisal and then auctioned off to the highest bidder, with the least controversial and highest value parcels topping the list.
“Our notions are that we would do auctions at the individual forest level, selling to the highest bidder,” Rey said. The exact sale process would be determined by the language of the final bill passed by Congress, he said.
The proposal hasn’t gained much traction in Congress yet, and has spurred widespread public opposition. But Rey said the plan is supported by local governments in areas that would benefit from the funding.
But critics, including Democratic Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, have said that selling land as a one-time budget fix is short-sighted and not in the best public interest.
“The supporters have been far quieter than the opponents. What I’m hearing is a level of concern that’s not surprising,” Rey said, adding that he’s not expecting support or outright opposition from elected officials at this point in the process.
“We think funding rural schools is important,” Rey said, acknowledging that the sale plan could “slow the pace” of the Forest Service land exchange process.
Some of the parcels identified for sale have previously been tabbed as potential trade pieces.
“Many of these lands, as candidates for exchange, would have gone into private ownership anyway,” Rey said, adding that federal budget realities sometimes require tough choices.
Many of the potential sale parcels are characterized as difficult to manage by the Forest Service because they are completely or partially surrounded by private property.
“Some of these lands may be suitable for development if they are already surrounded by development,” Rey said, viewing the issue in the larger context of population growth in the inter-mountain West.
Rey said that, based on public input, the Forest Service may revise the formula for identifying potential sale parcels to reflect the fact that some of the parcels are located in relatively well-off counties that don’t really need the infusion of federal cash. That could include areas like Eagle and Pitkin counties, home to some of the wealthiest resort communities in the West.
” The Forest Service land sale proposal is subject to a 30-day public comment period ending March 30. The Forest Service has posted information relating to the land sale at its main website, http://www.fs.fed.us, including links to the Federal register notice, as well as lists and maps of the parcels.
” Comments on the proposed list of Forest Service lands for sale must be received by March 30 and may be sent by e-mail to SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us. Written comments may be sent to: USDA Forest Service, SRS Comments, Lands 4S, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Mailstop 1124, Washington, D.C., 20250-0003. Send faxed comments to (202) 205-1604.
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