Lawmakers seeks moratorium on more federal land
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C. 4/3/03 - A Missouri congressman is trying to stop the federal government from acquiring
more land until it does a better job of maintaining the millions of acres it already has.
Paid for by taxes on offshore oil and gas drilling, the fund helps four agencies - the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management - buy property for conservation and recreation.
Graves said he is motivated primarily by a $15 billion backlog on maintenance and improvements on federal lands.
"It just peeves me no end to know that they continue to buy up this land, and they won't take care of what they already have," said Graves, who is in his second term representing northwest Missouri.
"They own one out of every five acres already. At least in areas like Missouri, it takes land off the tax rolls. They do have payments in lieu of taxes, but they're never the amount they would have been on private land," he said.
Under a bill Graves introduced this week, money from the federal fund would pay for maintenance and improvements instead of land acquisition.
Missouri lands that could be affected include the Mark Twain National Forest and the Big Muddy Wildlife Refuge along the Missouri River floodplain, said Alan Front, senior vice president of the nonprofit Trust for Public Land.
Front said Graves' idea could be a well-intentioned effort to address land stewardship, "but it's the wrong tool for the right job."
"Using that money for maintenance is like mortgaging your house and buying groceries with the money," Front said Tuesday. "It would be paying for operations out of resource depletion."
He said that the creation of the fund in 1964 was an agreement: In exchange for depleting oil and gas through offshore drilling, some of the proceeds would be invested into another nonrenewable resource.
Graves said he did not intend to cut off all land acquisition and that his bill would reduce the ability to acquire public land by 80 percent.
Graves introduced his bill this week with support from a half-dozen colleagues, several from western states. All Republicans, they are Reps. James Gibbons of Nevada, Chris Cannon of Utah, Butch Otter of Idaho, Mac Thornberry of Texas, Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland and Cliff Stearns of Florida.
Over the years, Graves' fellow Republicans, Sen. Kit Bond and Rep. Roy Blunt, have successfully pushed for land purchases to expand the Mark Twain National Forest and Big Muddy Wildlife Refuge.
Bond and Blunt had not yet reviewed Graves' bill, Bond spokesman Ernie Blazar and Blunt spokeswoman Burson Taylor said Tuesday.
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