Forest Service may sell land in Missouri

Revenue from the 21,566 acres would pay to develop rural schools and roads.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:46 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Forest Service has identified 21,566 acres in the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri for potential sale.

The government is listing more than 300,000 acres of public land nationwide that could be sold to help fund the Secure Rural Schools program, which finances the development of rural schools and roads. The program addresses the decline in revenue from timber harvests that have been shared with counties, according to the Forest Service.

The proposal, announced Friday, calls for selling about 200,000 acres of Forest Service land to generate $800 million over the next five years, according to the Forest Service. The proposal includes land in 34 states, and Missouri has the fourth largest acreage.

The 316 parcels of land identified for possible sale in Missouri range from four acres to 268 acres.

Charlotte Wiggins, a spokeswoman for the Mark Twain National Forest in Rolla, said the land in Missouri is mostly isolated tracts that are difficult to access and expensive to manage.

The forest encompasses 1.5 million acres. Most of that land is in southern Missouri, but the Forest Service also manages 15,000 acres along and near Cedar Creek in Boone and Callaway counties. Wiggins said Monday she did not know whether any of the land listed for possible sale was in the Cedar Creek district.

Wiggins said the Mark Twain acreage is fragmented and not “one contiguous property.” Parcels may be separated from other forest land by private holdings, she said.

The Forest Service manages and preserves larger ecosystems, Wiggins said.

“The Forest Service cannot do much with 10 acres of land; private owners can do more,” she said.

Jim Scheff of the Missouri Forest Alliance said he is concerned that the proposal to sell parts of the Mark Twain forest is part of a larger trend toward privatization of public land.

“This is public land for people of the country as a whole,” he said. “It is our only commons.”

Even small tracts of public land can be an important part of America’s heritage, Scheff said, adding that he’s concerned about how the Forest Service will define isolated land.

The Forest Service will publish a public notice in the Federal Registrer, prepare maps showing the location of the parcels proposed for possible sale and start looking for public comment by the end of the month, according to the Forest Service. The proposal would need congressional approval before moving forward.

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