by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he drumbeat to avert a Bush administration proposal to sell off 300,000 acres of national forests reached a crescendo Saturday afternoon in Coeur d'Alene. With a hard rain drumming steadily against the ground, some 120 people gathered at St. Pius X Catholic Church for a final expression of opposition to the sale of places like Hayden Lake's English Point. People have rallied across political and cultural spectrums, uniting loggers and longhairs, retirees and ravers, Democrats and even Idaho Republicans.
Politicians in one of the reddest of red states have railed against the potential sale of forest lands from the local level -- state house Rep. George Sayler was among Saturday's speakers -- all the way up to U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, who has announced his opposition to the plan.
Even the Forest Service wasn't told of the proposal, Dave O'Brien, information officer for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, told Saturday's crowd.
"They never asked us about it," O'Brien said. If the administration had asked, he said, local federal foresters could have told them all about widespread opposition. "People have spoken very loudly that public forests are so important to them that only one law has been passed to allow the sale of forests, and it is very limited," O'Brien added, citing his decades of involvement in forest management and land exchanges.
The Bush proposal to sell forest lands that are isolated from other public lands or that are in what is called the urban/wildlife interface, such as English Point, is being pitched as a replacement to the Craig-Wyden Bill. The bill provided a solution to financial crises faced by rural counties throughout the West just as timber and mining on national forests -- traditional funding sources for rural schools -- were shrinking. The Craig-Wyden Bill is expiring, however, and Bush has pitched the sale of small, disconnected portions of the national forests as a new funding source.
The argument has been shot down in flames as a one-time solution that would sell irreplaceable land for a song. Sayler, the North Idaho republican legislator, said: "Public lands are not a budgetary slush fund. They shouldn't be sold off to meet current needs."
The Idaho House and Senate, in recent days, overwhelmingly passed a statement to the feds that they'd rather national forest land be placed in state management than sold off. "I voted for it, and I'm no fan of state management," Sayler said. "I wanted Congress to get the message."
Legislators hope Gov. Dirk Kempthorne will add his voice to the opposition, but they aren't holding their breath, citing Kempthorne's nomination to be Bush's next Secretary of the Interior.
And this week, the Idaho Conservation League announced Bush has pitched a quieter, parallel budget item calling for the sale of 500,000 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. As Interior secretary, Kempthorne would have direct control over the management of BLM lands.