Monday, May 01, 2006

News: Nature Conservancy Opposes Forest Service Sale

Conservancy finds that sale could threaten habitat for endangered wildlife

The Nature Conservancy, the world’s leading conservation organization, today submitted comments to the U.S. Forest Service expressing strong opposition to the proposed sale of 200,000 acres of Forest Service lands that had been recommended in President Bush’s 2007 budget proposal.

In a letter to the Forest Service, Conservancy President and CEO Steve McCormick said that the proposed sales could seriously harm wildlife and wild lands that the Conservancy and its partners are striving to conserve, including habitat for rare plant and animal species.

McCormick also opposed the sale because local governments, conservation organizations and private landowners were not given an opportunity to participate in the selection of the parcels and because revenue from the sales would be diverted to balance next year’s budget, rather than used to protect other lands for future generations.

“These lands are important public resources, and they should not be viewed as a disposable asset to finance unrelated, current obligations,” the letter said. “Land sales and land exchanges should be designed to enhance – not harm – the nation’s public lands heritage.”

The sale of Forest Service lands in 35 states was proposed as a method to pay for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, also known as the County Payments program. The Conservancy supports the County Payments program, but believes it should be paid for with general revenues.

In response to the land sale proposal, Conservancy field offices have reviewed hundreds of the land tracts nominated for sale and determined that a substantial portion of these lands provide important habitat for rare species, migratory corridors for wide-ranging birds and mammals and opportunities to coordinate public and private conservation efforts at the landscape scale.

Many of the tracts also include significant cultural sites or are important to recreational users of the national forests.

“Absent a careful, science-based analysis of individual tracts proposed for sale, the Forest Service risks harm to its conservation mission. Many of the parcels identified in the current proposal provide important conservation values and sale of these parcels would result in harm to those values,” the letter said. “In some cases, while parcels appear to be small or isolated, they have significant conservation value, and the harm resulting from their sale would extend beyond the perimeters of the individual tracts.”

The letter was submitted as part of the Forest Service’s public comment period on the sale, which closes on May 1.

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