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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Add to forests, donít reduce their acreage

The Bush administration's proposal to sell 300,000 acres of national forest should have people who value nature asking a ton of questions.

The proposal may be part of an ongoing assault on conservation and preservation that is one of the hallmarks of the administration and should get a vigorous challenge.

The proposal includes some 3,220 acres for sale in the three national parks in Alabama. U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mary Gaines said the parcels are in Bankhead, Conecuh and Talladega national forests.

She said the land consists of isolated parcels, some even lying outside the forest boundary lines.

But if the tracts in question are of no value as public land, why would they be of value to corporations or to private individuals?

And why wouldn't the Service offer to swap for land contiguous to the forests as a way to consolidate?

The Bankhead has 180,000 acres, Talladega has 387,181 acres and Conecuh has 83,883 acres. A majority of public lands are in the West, yet this proposal falls disproportionately on the Southeast where 55,862 acres would be up for disposal.

Much of this magnificent scenery we enjoy today is the result of reclamation projects carried out during the Great Depression. Thus, the nation needs to add to the public land bank for new generations instead of whittle away at what it now protects.

The Forest Service has to first publish the proposal in the Federal Register, get public comment and receive approval from Congress. That gives tree huggers and others who care about preserving and adding to public lands ample time to react.

The Forest Service may be entirely correct in wanting to consolidate for better management. But it should also be required to add at least as many acres as it sells and to make sure the public gets a good deal.

Selling public land and public assets always creates a certain level of suspicion.

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