Natural Resources and Environment:

Forest Service's Program To Identify Unneeded Land for Potential Sale Is Stalled

RCED-85-16: Published: Nov 6, 1984. Publicly Released: Nov 6, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's program to identify and dispose of unneeded land, including: (1) how the Service plans to implement an executive order which asked federal agencies to identify and dispose of such land; (2) its land management process; and (3) the problems and costs involved in selling the land.

GAO found that the Service is not determining which tracts of 6 million acres of forest land identified for study are unneeded because it has limited authority to sell national forest system land. However, Congress will not consider granting additional sale authority until the Service identifies and studies the unneeded lands. In addition, Service officials believe that once the land is studied, substantially less than 6 million acres would be offered for sale; however, the specific numbers will not be known until the land is further studied. Service officials estimate that about 10 percent of the land would be offered for sale after a study of resources and land use. The remaining acres would probably be retained because the land: (1) does not cost much to manage and has significant timber resources and animal forage; (2) contains important natural and cultural resources; and (3) is not readily marketable because of remoteness and the lack of natural resources. As of July 9, 1984, 118 of 124 anticipated forest land and management resources plans were still being developed but, by 1985, the 6 million acres could be reviewed. Users of national forest lands felt that the land identified for further study should remain as part of the Forest Service. Several expressed concern about sale terms and whether they would have the first opportunity to purchase unneeded lands.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service Manual states that Forest Service plans which are revised to integrate planning for wilderness and other special areas shall consider desired land ownership patterns and ways of achieving them, including disposal of unsuitable areas.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to modify Service instructions on the integrated plans to require forest supervisors to review the need for the 6 million acres identified for further study. To the extent possible, these reviews should be done as part of the process of preparing the initial integrated forest and resource management plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service Manual states that Forest Service plans which are revised to integrate planning for wilderness and other special areas shall consider desired land ownership patterns and ways of achieving them, including disposal of unsuitable areas.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to develop a list of land tracts that should be made available for sale and report the results to Congress for its use in considering whether to grant the Secretary additional sales authority for Forest Service land.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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