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Bush administration proposes sale of CherokeeNational Forest land

GREGG POWERS • Mar 6, 2007 at 4:48 AM

A Bush administration plan to sell nearly 300,000 acres of national forests, including local land in the Cherokee National Forest, failed last year but is back on the president's proposed 2008 budget.

The sale would raise $800 million for the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-determination Act of 2000, a subsidies program for rural schools, fire departments and roads.

The Associated Press reported last month that Mark Rey, undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the new plan is not recycled.

"It was a good idea last year, and it's a better idea this year," he said. "But more to the point, it's the only idea on the table."

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-determination Act expired Dec. 31. Rey said the department sees the new proposal as a one-time money-raising effort to help counties transition as they find new revenue.

The subsidies also could be used for roads and firefighting in counties where declining timber harvests on federal lands mean less local tax revenue.

The new proposal directs half of the sale receipts to be earmarked for rural counties, while the other half is earmarked for land acquisition.

The portion of the money intended for land purchases would remain within the state where it was collected, Rey said.

The Forest Service has identified 2,996 acres in 38 parcels that could go up for sale in seven East Tennessee counties, all part of the 630,000-acre Cherokee National Forest. The counties are: Carter, Cocke, Johnson, Monroe, Polk, Sullivan and Unicoi.

About 560 acres are in Carter County; 709 acres, including one 500-acre parcel, are in Sullivan County; 30 acres are in Unicoi County; and about 125 acres are in Johnson County.

Tennessee's only national forest, the Cherokee, covers nearly 630,000 acres in 10 counties in East Tennessee. It is the largest tract of public land in the Volunteer State. The forest is separated into two parts by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Cherokee National Forest boasts 30 developed campgrounds, 30 picnic areas, 700 miles of trail, hundreds of miles of cold water streams, and seven white-water rivers.

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