Forest Service Plans Land Selloff

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest administrator Eric Hodnett surveys the property now used as a Forest Service vehicle storage and service area in Medford, Ore., that is for sale Wednesday, April 20, 2005. Minimum bid is $3.5 million.
Looking for a sweet home in Sweet Home?

The Forest Service may have just the answer. Three houses in Sweet Home, a former logging town in Oregon's Willamette Valley, are for sale for $52,500, $69,000 and $78,000. The properties, built in the 1950s for workers in the Willamette National Forest, are no longer needed -- and frankly, the Forest Service could use the money.

Squeezed by record deficits, the decline of the timber industry and the revenue that produced, as well as demands of the new "healthy forests" law, the agency is looking to close some recreation sites and sell offices and ranger stations that bustled during the logging heyday decades ago but now sit idle.

Under legislation the Bush administration plans to push this year, the agency would sell hundreds of buildings, expanding on permission Congress gave in 2001 to sell as many as 10 properties a year. The first sale was completed in September 2004.

Officials hope to bring in up to $175 million over 10 years, while reducing maintenance costs by as much as $90 million for an inventory of 40,000 properties nationwide.

Some properties are already being advertised for sale on the Internet, including a 5.2-acre site with six buildings in Medford, Ore., near the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The property -- a radio shop and warehouse that are no longer needed -- could fetch $3.5 million.

Also being considered for sale are a blighted building in Los Angeles and a former ranger district complex in the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests in Washington state.

"We just can't afford to keep up everything we have," said Richard Sowa, director of engineering for the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest region.

The inventory "made sense 40 years ago, but it doesn't make sense today," Sowa said. Forest Service staff in the Northwest has dropped by almost half since 1990, mainly due to cutbacks in logging that have slashed revenue from timber sales.

The agency also is marking some recreation sites such as campgrounds for possible closure, as it struggles to meet President Bush's proposal to cut its budget by 5.8 percent, to $4.07 billion.

The president's plan would boost spending by $56 million for projects to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, but would cut spending in other areas. Chief among the proposed cuts are $40 million for state and private forestry programs, $81 million for maintenance of facilities and $20 million in land acquisition.