Southern national forests disproportionately targeted for land sales

For immediate release: May 1, 2006 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Many areas key for environment, recreation David Carr Director, SELC Public Lands Project 434.977.4090 Cat McCue SELC Communications Manager 434.977.4090 Charlottesville, VA – The southern states will be some of the hardest hit by the Bush Administration's plan to sell off national forest land. While the majority of land is in the West, a disproportionate amount of southern national forest land is on the sale list, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center which filed comments today with the U.S. Forest Service opposing the sale. The U.S. Forest Service Southern Region, which extends from Virginia to Florida and across to Texas, has roughly 13 million acres of national forest land, and almost 60,000 acres on the for-sale list. The region that comprises Oregon and Washington has twice as much national forest land but only 18,000 acres up for sale. Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama are at risk of losing 31,000 acres. Contrary to the Bush Administration's assertion that the parcels targeted for sale are unwanted, many of the areas in the South provide clean drinking water for nearby communities, harbor threatened animal species or rare plant species, are important for recreation benefits or are otherwise valued by southerners as part of the region's natural heritage. As people's interest in outdoor activities continues to increase, the demand for use of national forest land will increase. The Bush Administration also says that most of the parcels are isolated, having little effect on national forests. However, as SELC notes in its comments, this is often not the case in the South. Many of the parcels are either contiguous to national forest land or serve as vital wildlife and recreation connections with existing public lands. These parcels listed for sale also harbor the headwaters of trout streams, and watersheds important for drinking water and at-risk aquatic species. "It makes no sense to sell these public land parcels that will serve as the building blocks for future landscape conservation efforts, public and private," says David Carr, public lands project director for SELC. "We need to be adding to the public land base in the South, not holding a bake sale on bits and pieces of our limited national forests for short-term budget needs." He noted that by most measures, the South is the fastest growing region in the country, leading to worsening sprawl development coupled with growing demand for backcountry recreation.