Originally Posted by [bQuote[/b] ]Students Skeptical Of U.S. Plan To Sell Their Trees
Posted on Friday, May 05 2006 12:55:17 PDT by Intellpuke
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"What is the deal with cutting down the Croatan National Forest?" the letter began. "How would you like it if we cut down some trees around your house?"
Haley Wester, a sixth grader at the Broad Creek Middle School here, was voicing the sentiments of her classmates and North Carolina's top officials when she wrote Mark Rey, under secretary of agriculture, two months ago to protest his proposal to sell 309,000 acres of National Forest land across the country, including nearly 10,000 in North Carolina.
The letter was gloriously blunt, but Ms. Wester was hardly alone in her feelings - the proposal has evoked strong protest around the country and in Congress.
The recipient's response, however, was a bit out of the ordinary: Rey flew to Carteret County to defend the proposal before Dave Holland's sixth-grade science classes Thursday morning.
The media center of the Broad Creek Middle School briefly took on the aspect of a Congressional hearing room as Rey, flanked by uniformed forest rangers from the Croatan (CROW-uh-tan) National Forest, set about explaining his beleaguered proposal even while emphasizing that it is likely to be revised to make it politically palatable. He told a dubious young audience sitting cross-legged on the floor that the sale was designed to help raise $500 million to $1 billion to pay for rural schools in heavily forested counties like theirs. But he said the amount of land likely to be actually sold to raise the needed money would be cut to nearly half, or 175,000 acres.
He said his proposal was designed to meet an obligation that dates back 98 years. When the national forests were carved out by President Theodore Roosevelt, the government promised to repay the counties most affected by the loss of their tax base.
The original source of that compensation, timber sales, can no longer meet the obligations, Rey said. Unless the forest service found other sources of revenue, rural schools mostly in the Pacific Northwest could lose programs in sports, the arts and other activities.
He added that sixth-grade science students from Manton Joint Union School in Manton, California, would be in touch with Holland's class, perhaps to explain how budget cuts would affect their school.
Ray was challenging Congress to come up with another plan for raising revenues.
In a telephone interview later, Bob Douglas, the school superintendent in Tehama County, whose district includes Manton School, said about 1 percent of his budget comes from the government. Douglas, who is also president of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, said some districts in his state depend on the rural schools money for 10 percent to 25 percent of their budgets.
Congress has shown every sign of being ready to kill Rey's proposal. The budgetary maneuver might involve less than 0.1 percent of the 192 million acres of national forestland, but virtually every sliver is dear to some congressman's district.
The idea for the land sales was almost instantly put in the going-nowhere file on Capitol Hill when it was proposed in February. Those speaking against it included powerful Republicans like Representative Charles H. Taylor of North Carolina, the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that controls the Forest Service budget.
Those who have dealt with Rey over the years are reluctant to count him out. He told the children of the Croatan that he was in this fight for the long term.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make this proposal as sensitive, attractive and agreeable as possible," he said, adding, "It may take time. It may drift into next year."
Josh Kardon, chief of staff for Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, has fenced with Rey for years over a variety of issues and does not believe the conventional wisdom that has consigned the budget proposal to oblivion.
"A lot of bad ideas die on the hill," Kardon said in a telephone interview. "This one seems to die and get resuscitated on shorter cycle than most."
The national fight over half a billion dollars and hundreds of thousands of acres looks different, however, to Holland's students. Around Newport and Morehead City, expensive homes and condominiums are mushrooming at a rate that makes Carteret County one of the fastest-growing counties in North Carolina.
As Jamie Lewis, another of Holland's students, wrote, "I have lived here all my life, and when I was little it was much prettier. We keep adding all these houses."
Nonprofit land conservation groups, along with the state of North Carolina, have pushed to preserve forest land in recent years, but they have already pledged to buy parcels identified as ecologically vulnerable.
They are unlikely to step up for Croatan land, if it is sold. The Forest Service's original list included two parcels along Highway 24, which runs parallel to the Atlantic coastline and is flanked by new, high-end housing developments like Brandywine Bay and by the detritus of dead trees that mark a future strip development site. An acre of wooded raw land along Highway 24 sells from $5,000 inland to $75,000 if water is involved, according to local brokers.
Almost 900 acres of those originally proposed for sale were in the isolated Croatan - a coastal forest, by turns swampy and sandy, which is home to endangered woodpeckers, choirs of songbirds, phalanxes of needle-crowned long-leaf pine trees, and rare insect-gobbling plants like the Venus flytrap and the pinhead-size yellow bladderwort.
One small parcel on Route 24, shaped like a pencil point, contains a stand of longleaf pine and a tree circled in white. Thirty feet up, inside the trunk, is the nest of an endangered woodpecker, which is now sitting on its eggs.
After staring up at the lip of the nest, Lauren Hillman, district ranger at the Croatan National Forest, told two visitors that this land was unlikely to be included in any sales proposal. The 32-acre parcel was too ecologically sensitive to put into private hands.
But any land sale troubles her, she said, because the Forest Service often swaps less valuable land to obtain ecologically important parcels.
"My concern about this is not the idea, but the implementation," she said. "Small remote forests that don't get money for acquisition will lose their ability to exchange lands."
Rey told Holland's class that the national forests grow, through land swaps and land purchases, by as much as 100,000 acres a year. A sale of 175,000 acres, he said, would be made up in less than two years.
Intellpuke: "Kudo to the students in Mr. Holland's class for getting involved in an issue that directly affects their lives. As for Mr. Rey, to quote Pink Floyd: 'Leave the kids alone'. You can read this article by New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer, reporting from Newport, North Carolina, in context here.Originally Posted by [bQuote[/b] ]http://freeinternetpress.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=6805