Public lands should remain public |

Public lands should remain public

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the Bush administration’s latest scheme to privatize the American landscape.Last week The Aspen Times reported that a 200-acre parcel near Sunlight Ski Area and a 120-acre parcel outside Redstone are on a list of federal lands slated for sale. They are part of 1,240 acres in the White River National Forest and more than 21,000 acres statewide that the federal government would sell if Congress approves the program.The Bush administration claims the selloff is necessary to fund school- and road-building programs that traditionally have been covered by receipts from timber sales, mining royalties and grazing leases. If all goes according to plan, the selloff of approximately 200,000 acres of public land around the West would raise $800 million, some of which will reportedly go toward schools and roads.Everybody uses schools and roads, so at first glance it would seem this program would be beneficial. Administration officials have also pointed out that the properties identified for the program are isolated parcels surrounded by private property, which makes them more difficult to manage.The Bush administration’s plan to sell these lands comes at a high cost for local communities strapped with responsibility of providing services to remote properties. The selloff is going to create scores of new private property owners in remote areas, which in turn will generate new demands on local governments to provide roads, utilities and policing. Such services aren’t free.There are long-term costs for the nation as a whole, as well. The selloff would diminish the total inventory of federal lands, which are a national resource that have served many purposes over the years. Federal lands have been logged, dammed and mined. They’ve been used to build weapons laboratories during times of war and parsed out to railroad companies and utilities to provide Americans with transportation, electricity and communication services. Most significantly, the inventory of federal lands has made it possible to create national parks and carve out wilderness areas, providing refuge to both people and animals.Congress should reject this plan and force the president to find other, more stable sources of funding for vital transportation and education projects.


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