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Oklahoma included in federal land sale plan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ More than 3,000 acres of federal forest land in southeast Oklahoma could be sold to continue funding rural roads and schools.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service has proposed to sell more than 300,000 acres of forest nationwide to pay for another five years of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.

The legislation expires at the end of 2006 after pumping nearly $2 billion into about 700 counties and 4,000 school districts that are home to national forests.

The land sale, which could net as much as $800 million, is meant to keep that program running.

``Without it, these rural schools and counties ... could just go belly up,'' said Paul Beddoe, associate legislative director for the National Association of Counties.

The Oklahoma land included in the sale proposal announced Feb. 28 is in McCurtain and Le Flore counties.

The list includes about 1,200 acres of land in Le Flore County on the outskirts of the Ouachita National Forest. The rest, in McCurtain County, is left over from a 1996 land swap with the Weyerhaeuser Co., an international forest products company.

A portion of the land that could become available in McCurtain County is adjacent to the 15,000-acre Little River National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, whose district includes those two counties, said he is willing to consider the sale plan.

``Our federal lands have to be managed efficiently,'' said Boren, D-Muskogee. ``The Forest Service is telling us that the parcels of land it proposes putting up for sale are remote, expensive to manage or no longer meet public needs.

``It's important our limited resources be applied where they will do the most good.''

The Sierra Club, an organization that supports preservation, disagrees with the sale.

``We strongly oppose this proposal and other efforts to open public forest lands to private development,'' said in a petition. ``Our government should be in the business of protecting our natural heritage, not selling it off to the highest bidder.''

Boren said the proposal could be good for rural residents because the sale of federal forest land would put that property back on the tax rolls.

``Le Flore and McCurtain counties alone stand to gain more than $1 million for roads and schools from this sale,'' he said. ``We have to look at the plan closely in Congress to make sure it's what's best for the public and not just a quick fix to a budget problem.''
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