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Land sales off the table

Tongass proposal that may affect Boy Scout path put off for a year

Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The trailhead for Juneau's popular Boy Scout Trail has a year's reprieve from a planned U.S. Forest Service land sale.

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The Bush administration has decided to delay for a year its controversial proposal to sell up to 300,000 acres of national forest land throughout the United States.

The land sales included 98 acres in the Tongass National Forest and 1 acre in the Chugach National Forest.

One of the most controversial in the Tongass was the 6-acre parcel proposed for sale next to Juneau's Boy Scout Trail. The city has been trying to acquire or jointly manage the parcel, which is surrounded by roughly 147 acres of city land, with the Juneau Ranger District.

"Nobody's quite sure what's going to happen," said Heather Marlow, the city's lands and resources manager. "The city has a pretty large interest out there, and it's of interest to the public, in general."

Other controversial parcels included two small islands and the tip of Point Macartney near Kake, and a parcel on Prince of Wales Island, in Shakan Strait. Both have cultural and historical significance to Native villages.

"Basically, the sales are off the table, at least for this year," said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Regional Office of the U.S. Forest Service, on Tuesday.

Local conservation groups had been watching the proposed Tongass sales intently.

"They are all important for recreation, cultural and historical reasons. They really should stay public," said Lauren Oakes, with the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

The purpose of the land sales was to provide five additional years of revenue - roughly $800 million, total - for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which funds rural schools, roads and services. The act is set to expire on Sept. 30.

The act has provided Alaska rural communities about $9.3 million per year from 2001 to 2005. Under new proposed legislation in Congress, the Bush administration planned to phase out most of that funding, after the five-year period ended.

Speegle said it is now up to Congress to determine how to fund the rural payment program next year. Whether the land sales will be proposed again in the future remains unknown, she said.

On Aug. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary of Natural Resources and the Environment Mark Rey sent a letter backing off the land sales - at least for a year - to three U.S. congressmen who had fought the Bush administration's bill to authorize the land sales.

Rey said in the letter that there wasn't enough time to approve the land sales before the expiration of the federal act in September.

One of the congressmen, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had been holding up all nominations to the Interior and Agriculture departments due to his opposition to the land sales. He announced last week that he would lift his hold on the nominations.

In his letter, Rey said he would work with the three to "enact a one-year extension of the program, at full funding levels."

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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