County approves forest land resolution

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 3, 2006

Think before you buy.

That’s the message some local officials want to send their federal counterparts in regards to purchasing more lands for the Wayne National Forest. But forestry officials contend the issue is not as simple as it may sound and is not something they can control anyway.

The Lawrence County Commission Thursday approved a resolution asking federal authorities to appropriate the same amount of money to improve existing property within the forest as it allots to purchase additional Lawrence County land to enlarge the forest.

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The resolution also asks federal officials to give commissioners the power to review land purchases within the county before that land is bought by the forestry service.

“We believe that if they’re going to appropriate money to buy more land they need to consider spending a similar amount on what they already have,” Lawrence County Commission President George Patterson said.

“We understand it’s not the local people. They do what they are allowed to do. But we’ve had problems over the years. Although we support the Wayne National Forest we do have problems with them buying so much land and undermining the school district.”

County Commissioner Doug Malone agreed.

“We’re asking them to spend a similar amount on facilities as they put into land,” he said.

Right now, 24 percent of the acreage in Lawrence County is owned by the WNF. Recent purchases of additional lands have prompted admonishment from some local business and government officials who have said they do not want to see more land taken off the tax rolls, its potential for future economic

development erased.

Gloria Chrismer, Ironton district ranger for the WNF, said she would like to have more money for capital improvements but realizes the federal government has only so much money to go around. The WNF must stand in line for its allocation like every other national forest. Land acquisition funds and capital improvement monies are allocated separately; money for one cannot be used for another. Chrismer said the amount allocated for each varies from year to year.

As for the request for commission review of future land purchases, Chrismer said, those who sell land to the forest often do so with a specific purpose in mind.

“They’re probably not aware that some of the land we end up with was purchased because a buyer was willing to sell it to us,” Chrismer said. “Often the seller says ‘this was my family farm and I don’t want to see it split up. I don’t want to see it subdivided, I want to see it kept together so that someday I can show my kids that this was the family farm.’ If we were to have this (commission oversight) it would severely limit, I think, those who want to do that. I don’t know if people would be willing to come to us.

“I know of no other forest that has that type of oversight. It sounds bulky and cumbersome to me.”

This is the latest chapter in an issue that has divided local and forestry officials for years.

Last month, the commission sent a letter to the area’s elected leaders in Columbus and in Washington, D.C., asking for land purchase oversight. That move came after Chrismer told the commissioners that the WNF is purchasing a portion of the 3,590 acres of Lawrence County land that was purchased within the last three years by the Nature Conservancy.

Two years ago, the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation sponsored a study to determine what the best uses would be for the county’s rural lands and if they could be developed into a viable business of some sort.