Monday, March 13, 2006

March 13, 2006 I am mad because they are selling my land


Consider This for March 13, 2006--I Am Mad Because They Are Selling My Land


“I am mad, and I’m not going to take it anymore” is a famous line from the movie “Network.” Well, I’m mad too, and I’m not going to take it anymore either.

The United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Forest Service are proposing the sale of my land, my forest, to pay for schools and roads in local communities. What a rip-off. What a major case of smoke and mirrors.

The USDA and the USFS are merely managers of my land and my forest. It is your land and your forest too. It belongs to all of us. It belonged to President Roosevelt when the Forest Service was created. It belongs to the fisherman in Key West, Florida. It belongs to the storekeeper in Bangor, Maine. It belongs to the surfer in Hawaii. It belongs to my children and my grandchildren. It belongs to everyone who has ever lived in the United States or ever will live in the United States.

We should never dispose of any public lands. Period. Not for any reason. We have X amount of public lands today, and 100 years from now we should have the same amount of public land. Not one inch of it should ever be disposed of.

Will Rogers once said, “Invest in real estate. They are not making any more of it.” That says it all. Once it is gone, it is gone. Never to come back again.

This past Wednesday I cosponsored House Joint Resolution 06-1018, “Concerning the proposed sale of United States forest lands to provide funding to reauthorize the federal ‘Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000,’ and in connection therewith, urging the United States Forest Service to rescind the proposal for the sale of these lands.”

The sponsor of the joint resolution is Representative Robert Witwer of Evergreen. As he introduced the measure, he told the body that over 300,000 acres of forestland are up for disposal. In Colorado alone there are over 21,000 acres on the block. That is over 7% of the total. Any percent is too much.

The whole relationship between schools, counties, and the Forest Service is very difficult to understand. Even though I spent almost ten years dealing with it, I am not sure I fully understand it today.

Around 70% of Summit County is public lands. Public lands do not pay property tax. Years ago Congress created the PILT program. PILT stands for Payment in Lieu of Taxes. What it means is the federal government will pay counties and school districts money to mitigate impacts of the federal lands. I remember the last time I checked Summit County government was getting about $200,000 a year, and the school district was getting about $40,000 a year.

The county also gets some money from contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to provide patrols of the lake and campgrounds.

The ski areas pay the Forest Service money for their permits on forestland. I have never known how much is collected, but I do know that money does not come back to the counties.

I heard Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Mark Rey on National Public Radio discussing the sale of forestlands, and he was trying to tell the audience what a great deal it was. He said these were inholdings and surplus lands that were difficult to manage and needed to be sold off. He used one example of a portion of a parking lot in a shopping center that was owned by the Forest Service that could be disposed of.

The Forest Service does not own it. You and I own it. I don’t disagree with disposing of it in an exchange where land could be acquired next to the forest, but I don’t agree with selling it. We should never allow any net loss of land. One acre could be exchanged for another acre but never sold.

Mark Rey’s argument does not pass the smell test.

We need to do everything we can to protect this important national legacy for our children and their children.

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