Forestland Sell Off Could Affect WMAs

U.S. Forest Service could sell 300,000 acres, including more than 4,500 acres Georgia.

So you thought National Forest land was safe from the kind of rampant selloffs that prompted Weyerhauser to dump hundreds of thousands of acres of Georgia woodlands? Think again. If a proposal by the Bush administration goes through Congress, Georgia could lose more than 4,500 acres of the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests — including some WMA property — in a nationwide liquidation of 300,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land.

Chattahoochee National Forest lands proposed for sale lie in Chattooga, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Habersham, Murray, Rabun, Towns, Union and Walker counties. Tracts in Greene, Oglethorpe and Putnam counties could be sold off the Oconee National Forest. The largest tract of land proposed for sale in Georgia is a 418-acre tract in Rabun County. The smallest, a .03-acre tract, is in Towns County.

The problem for Georgia hunters could be that some of the property lies within WMAs. For instance, two tracts proposed for sale lie within Redlands WMA.

“To my knowledge, any Forest Service land sold in Greene or Oglethorpe would affect Redlands WMA,” said Vic Vansant, WRD Region III supervisor.

Bill Nightingale, district ranger for USFS in Eatonton, said the two tracts of Redlands property were not part of the main acreage of the WMA. He also said that neither tract of Putnam County land was on a WMA.

“The two tracts in Greene and Oglethorpe, while they are part of the WMA, are smaller acreages, removed from the rest of the property,” Vic said.

“Most of the lands proposed for sale are properties that lie alone, away from other public properties, and we sometimes use them to swap land with a property owner who has a tract in the middle of Forest Service land,” Bill said. “By filling those areas in through land swaps, we can actually help hunters have better access.

In northwest Georgia, public-land hunters could get a break by not losing any WMA property. “I’m pretty sure this won’t affect any WMA in northwest Georgia,” Region I Game Managment supervisor Chuck Waters said.

In Region II, which covers northeast Georgia, supervisor Ken Riddleberger was unavailable for comment before presstime.

Georgia’s population continues to grow, and as development moves farther out from the state’s major population centers, land access is becoming a more important issue for hunters. And with many folks forgoing the skyrocketing cost of leasing land to hunt public tracts, the loss of more land is not good news.

The proposal still has a long way to go before anything concrete happens. It would have to be passed by Congress and Senate before any sales were able to take place, and many leaders on Capitol Hill — especially those from western states — are already speaking out vehemently against the proposal.

The proposal comes on the heels of a failed bid last year to allow the sale of public land for mining.

Money from the land sales would be used to fund rural schools, roads and other things across 41 states in areas hard hit by plummeting timber sales.

The tracts proposed for sale across the country range from one acre to more than 1,000, and could bring more than $1 billion in what would be the largest forestland sale in decades.

The public can have a look at the lands potentially for sale by logging on to the USFS website at <www.fs.fed.us>. Maps should be available online.

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