(05/09/2006)
There is a continued dismantling of the nation's most treasured lands, not only selling it, but proposals to open up the areas to mining, drilling, road building and development.

Now, there is a proposal by the Bush administration to sell 200,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service lands, including 5,000 acres in the Monongahela National Forest.

The sale is drawing criticism from The Nature Conservancy, one of the world's largest conservation organizations.

The sale of the premium national land is the first step to bring money into the federal treasury to balance next years budget.

Mature Conservancy President Steve McCormick said the proposed sales could seriously harm wildlife and wild lands that the Conservancy and its partners are striving to conserve, including habitat for rare plants and animals.

The sale is opposed because local government, conservation organizations and private landowners were not given an opportunity to participate in the selection of the parcels.

Not unlike other money generated from the development of wilderness areas, the money will not be returned to protect and nurture the natural areas.

"These lands are important public resources, and they should not be viewed as a disposable asset to finance unrelated, current obligations," said McCormick.

The proposed sale of National Forest land in 35 states is proposed as a means to pay for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, also known as the County Payments program, which provides funding for public schools in lieu of property taxes in counties that contain National Forest acreage.

It is a carrot at the end of a stick.

In West Virginia, Monongahela National Forest land considered as part of the sale includes tracts of land in the Cheat Mountain, Roaring Plains and Spruce Mountain areas.

"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," McCormick said.


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