Public land sale could involve two valley parcels
The Roaring Fork Valley mostly will be spared from President Bush’s controversial proposal to sell off national forest lands to offset loss of revenues from timber sales.The Bush administration announced Friday it hopes to raise $800 million over five years through the sale of 200,000 acres of forest lands. The proposal identified 21,652 acres in Colorado as eligible for the auction block – including 11 parcels totaling 1,240 acres in the White River National Forest.Two of those parcels are in the Roaring Fork Valley, according to U.S. Forest Service officials. One 200-acre piece is along Freeman Creek, about two miles east of Sunlight ski area outside Glenwood Springs in Garfield County.A second parcel of 120 acres is two miles east of Coal Basin, in the Redstone area of Pitkin County.Both parcels are isolated islands of Forest Service land surrounded by private property or U.S. Bureau of Land Management holdings. “It’s hard to say who would have interest in them or how they would appraise,” said Cindy Dean, a real estate specialist with the Aspen/Sopris District of the Forest Service.
The Forest Service scrambled late last year to identify lands that could be used in the president’s program. In Colorado, the regional office in Denver assembled the list, then sent it to district offices throughout the state for review.The list initially included an unspecified amount of land on the back of Aspen Mountain, Dean said. When mining claims were patented during Aspen’s silver boom, numerous small pieces were left over. They are often triangular pieces of less than one acre.Those mining claim remnants often don’t have legal descriptions, making them difficult to sell. “So all the stuff on Aspen Mountain fell off the list,” Dean said.The Forest Service also withdrew the Aspen Mountain property from consideration because this latest program sought new lands to offer for sale. The sale of mining claim remnants was already authorized by a previous act, said Randy Karstaedt, director of physical resources for the Forest Service’s regional office.A list of the property that the administration wants to sell will be published at the end of February in the Federal Register, the official notification publication of the federal government. The public will have 30 days to comment.Karstaedt said the properties that “cause consternation” for one reason or another will be withdrawn. He wouldn’t say if he felt any properties in Colorado would be controversial.”The public comments will tell us which stand out,” he said.Congress must approve the program before any properties can be sold. A fight is likely.
The administration claims the federal land sale is necessary to renew a program that provides funds to states for improvements to schools and roads. The program used to be funded by revenues from timber sales, mineral resource sales and grazing fees. Fewer timber sales have left the program shortchanged, according to the administration.Conservation groups counter that the Bush administration is selling off a national heritage of public lands. Scott Silver has warned about the “privatization” of public lands since the mid-1990s as the director of an Oregon-based group called Wild Wilderness. This is part of a pattern of the government administering public lands like a business – charging fees to visit spectacular natural landscapes and selling off land when it needs to raise capital, he said.”This is the liquidation of America,” Silver said.He is unconvinced that the sales are needed to fund improvements to schools and roads. He believes it is a deliberate attempt to mismanage funds to assist an agenda of selling off public lands.The Wilderness Society is also critical of the proposal. The administration justifies the program by saying only lands that are isolated or inefficient to manage were identified for sale. But Cecilia Clavet, a national forest lands specialist with the Wilderness Society, said remote lands shouldn’t be treated as worthless lands.She said many of the parcels identified for sale provide wildlife habitat and provide other ecological advantages.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com