Tahoe basin land safe from sell-off plan
More than 2,000 acres of Tahoe National Forest land is on the chopping block, part of a list of 300,000 acres of federal land that could be sold to fund schools and roads in states across the nation.
No land in the Lake Tahoe Basin will be for sale, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman. An original list suggesting 81 acres near the “Y” in South Shore could be considered for sale turned out to be an error. The parcel is privately owned.
A proposal to raise $800 million over the next five years, a reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-determination Act, was announced last week by the U.S. Forest Service. Rural counties hurt by reduced revenue from lower timber production would benefit from the land sales, which are slated to be up for adoption later this year.
Forest Service officials said they are considering the sale of parcels that are isolated or difficult to manage.
“These are not the crown jewels we are talking about,” said Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey.
The proposed sale represents only a fraction of a percent of the land under Forest Service ownership in California, according to agency officials.
“If you put it into context of the over 20 million acres of Forest Service land, it is not that much,” said Carl Holguin, a spokesman for the Forest Service. “But every acre is precious.”
But conservationists and western lawmakers strongly oppose the proposal, saying the short-term gains would be offset by the permanent loss of public lands.
Perry Norris of the Truckee Donner Land Trust has worked for years to consolidate Forest Service land that was fragmented by a railroad-era land policy that alternated large parcels of federal land with private land, known as checker-boarding.
“We’ve been working with the Forest Service … on trying to acquire these land holdings to develop a more sensible management plan,” said Norris, referring to what the land trust calls the “Checkerboard Campaign.”
Local federal lands are treasured by hikers, mountain bikers, skiers and snowmobilers, said Norris, who is not pleased that they could be liquidated.
“These parcels need to be taken off the to-be-disposed list,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the plan “a terrible idea based on a misguided sense of priorities.”
“I will do everything I can to defeat this effort,” she said.
Not only is the Bush administration proposing to sell off public lands to help finance the president’s budget, the move also won’t sufficiently fund the rural schools program, which has helped California and other states, Feinstein said.
In 2005, California received $67.4 million from the act. Nevada County collected $770,856, according to the U.S. Forest Service Web site.
Although the Tahoe National Forest has sizable chunks of land on the proposed sale list, including several parcels just north of Truckee, the majority of the land that could be sold is in the northern reaches of the state.
The Plumas, Lassen and Klamath Forests hold 75 percent of the land on the list, said the Forest Service’s Holguin.
The public will have several opportunities to comment on the proposal. The list of properties will be entered into the Federal Registry at the end of this month, which will open up a period of public comment. The proposal is expected to be modified based on public comment and sent to Congress in the spring.
“It’s certainly not cast in stone,” Holguin said. “A lot of discussion still needs to be had.”
A map of the lands that may be up for sale is expected to be released by the Forest Service soon.
– Tribune staff writer Amanda Fehd and the Associated Press contributed to this story.
By the numbers
2,000 – Number of acres proposed for sale on the Tahoe National Forest
300,000 – Amount of U.S. Forest Service acreage proposed for sale nationwide
75 percent – Three-quarters of proposed sales in California are on the Plumas, Lassen and Klamath Forests
20 million – Total number of acres owned by U.S. Forest Service in California
$800 million – Amount of money that could be generated by federal land sales
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