Hi Jennifer, thank you for your question.
UFWDA does not generally oppose the sale of federally-managed lands and supports the general concept of the Rural Schools program. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) does not have general authority to sell land. They may only sell land when Congress grants them the authority to do so.
With that said allow me to explain the sale of lands you and your membership are raising questions about.
First, these lands will not be sold until 2 events occur -
(1) Congress must pass legislation authorizing the sale.
This activity by Congress will happen in one of two ways: (a) Congress will pass reauthorization of the Secure Rural School and Community Sefl-Deterimination Act of 2000 (called SRS) or (b) Congress could pass the 2007 Appropriations Bill (The Presidents Budget) current version which contains language to reauthorize SRS, including the sale of lands in the states you mention. There are two bills that have been introduced already to reauthorize SRS, they are HR 517 and S 267.
(2) The U.S. Forest Service completes a notice and comment period as outlined in the Federal Register. The deadline for comments on the particular tracts of lands proposed for sale is March 30, 2006.
If both of these 2 events occur then the lands can be sold. The money will be used exclusively for funding pursuant to SRS.
SRS is also known as "Payments to States". It was passed in 2000 in response to the declining tax base in counties where federal lands lie. And although the current authorization for payments to states occcured in 2000, the concept of payments to states to support county roads and schools is nearly 100 years old.
In 1908, during the infancy of federally managed forests, there was concern that federalization of large areas could create a loss of tax base for the states and their counties. It also created some additional costs for the local government, public costs for fire, police, trash removal, things like that. So not only would the local government still have to provide services for the people using the lands, but they would not have any taxes generated from that land. In some counties the loss was small because the forests were small. In other counties, like Shoshone County, ID, the loss was very big because nearly 75% of the county land base is federal. The 75% land base wasn't taxable by the county, yet people came to work, recreate, and travel through these lands requiring county support like fire, police, etc.; activities costing tax payer dollars without tax payer revenue. To balance out the loss of tax base Congress passed the 1908 law that required 25% of the revenue generated from National Forests to be paid to states for the use of counties for their roads and schools - thus the "payments to states" reference to this program.
The bulk of the revenue generated in the forests was from timber contracts and mineral development. In recent decades the timber program has been sharply cut and so the revenue paid from the Forest Service to the county has been sharply cut.
The SRS was passed to reinstate some financial security to the counties where National Forests lie. SRS is much more complicated than I'm explaining it here, but suffice it say that a county can opt in to paricipate in the SRS or they can simply receive 25% of forest revenue which diminishes year by year. If they opt in under SRS they will receive a guaranteed dollar amount for 6 years. The guaranteed payment is calculated by taking the three highest payments for the years 1986 - 1999 and averaging them.
Whether the payments received by the counties comes from opting into SRS or from the 25% program, the money must be used for specific expenditure, including roads and schools.
Here are a few examples from the states you mention.
Florida - received $2.4 million from USFS for 2005 revenues
Georgia - received $1.2 million from USFS for 2005 revenues
North Carolina - received $1.1 million from USFS for 2005 revenues
Tennessee - received $500,000 from USFS for 2005 revenues
Now I'm at the point of finally explaining how the proposed sale of lands relates to the SRS and "Payments to States" program.
First, SRS is only authorized by Congress through 2006. Without reauthorization there will be no payments made.
Second, the President is cutting funding for many federal agencies in order to pay for hurricane recovery programs. So even if Congress does reauthorize SRS the money has to come from somewhere. That somewhere will not likely be timber sales since they continue to decline despite severe forest health questions and the appropriateness of protracted ligitation by environemental groups to stop timber contracts.
So, the President is suggesting, via his 2007 budget, to provide some funding basis for SRS through the sale of parcels of lands like the ones you mention. UFWDA position on proposed sale of Forest Service lands to fund SRS:
We generally support the sale of USFS managed lands proposed in the President's 2007 budget since the sales will be Congressionally authorized and subject to public notice and comment. UFWDA also supports SRS and SRS reauthorization generally.
If our members have concerns about the value of particular parcels in their state(s) we can assist you in making your comments to the USFS. The comment deadline is March 30, 2006.
If anyone needs assistance please post your questions here or feel free to e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
[modified by Carla 3/06 to add links]
For more information go to:http://wwwnotes.fs.fed.us:81/r4/payments_to_states.nsf/Web_Documents/97086F7F54C972E788256CCC004E36D0?OpenDocumenthttp://www.fs.fed.us/news/2006/releases/02/secure-rural-schools.shtmlhttp://www.joe.org/joe/2005august/a6.shtml
Carla Boucher, Attorney
United Four Wheel Drive Associations
P.O. Box 15696
Chesapeake, VA 23328