An article in the May 19 editions incorrectly reported that the federal government will offer 54 Forest Service properties, totaling 42,730 acres, for sale. That is the figure for the entire Agriculture Department; the Forest Service share is 833 acres.
The Reagan administration's land sales program began to take shape this week as the Defense and Agriculture departments outlined what they plan to sell, while Interior Secretary James G. Watt appeared about to win a battle to continue at least some of his "Good Neighbor" land transfers in the West.
Watt, scheduled to present his case to the White House-level Property Review Board Friday, sent an options paper to board chairman Edwin L. Harper last night outlining how the "Good Neighbor" policy would work under various scenarios. However, sources on Capitol Hill, with the Review Board and at Interior said Watt was likely to be able to continue most of his planned transfers of federal land to local governments in 10 western states.
Watt's western supporters, including many "Sagebrush Rebels" who sought local governmental control of federal land, have been upset by the prospect that the administration's land sales would put so much of their states in private hands.
The sales are intended to raise $17 billion over the next five years.
On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Richard E. Lyng, deputy agriculture secretary, said over the next few months his department will put 54 Forest Service properties, totaling 42,730 acres, on the block. All but 1,000 acres are in the Jornada (N.M.) soil experiment range.
At the same time, James N. Juliana, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that DOD would put 122 military properties, covering 11,500 acres, up for sale. The holdings are worth an estimated $727 million. The properties were not identified.
Watt, at a Public Lands Advisory Board meeting on Monday, reportedly said his department's first cut came up with 4 million acres of BLM land that could be sold.
The fourth major land-holding agency, the General Services Administration, has already received its marching orders from Harper, including instructions on handling low-cost transfers of federal property to certain groups and governmental units. In an executive order issued last February, President Reagan had ordered these GSA transfers phased out. Harper told GSA that the review board might approve them if the application was submitted before March 1, if disapproval would cause an extreme hardship for the applicant, or if the land would be used for a correctional facility.
The Senate hearing drew critics, who again charged that the program was not well thought out.
"I simply do not see how anyone can benefit by a crash program to dispose of federal lands," said Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.). Wyoming Gov. Ed Herschler said, "The all-inclusive nature of this proposal should cause the rational man to step back, take a deep breath and count both his money and his fingers."
Joseph R. Wright, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, tried to reassure them, promising that the sale of public land would be "accomplished with sensitivity. . . . We are not rushing headlong into this program." The board has already indicated that none of the nation's "critical environmental areas," such as national parks, would be sold.