The pandemic has given many Georgians a new look at the great outdoors, including national forest land and recreation areas in their own backyard. And after a rule change this week, officials managing national forest land have an expanded opportunity to improve what's usable, and offload what isn't.
The rule change applies to small tracts of land, under 10 to under 40 acres, and almost acts as a swap for an unfit parcel for funds for a new parcel, according to Brad Tait, National Realty Specialist with the National Forest Service.
"These typically involve land that have, in some ways, degraded and are probably not really suitable not only for public recreation but for any number of the aspects the U.S. Forest Service use the land towards," said Tait.
However, making the changes to the small tracts that are unfit means acquiring better land for other purposes. Tait said there are specific guidelines for these small tracts of land, not just anything can be a part of the exchange.
"So what the rule change did, and that arose from the 2018 Farm Bill, they've expanded some of the categories that are considered a small tract," said Tait. "They added three new categories, the first covers cemeteries, landfills and sewer treatment plants that were already authorized under a special use authorization from the Secretary of Agriculture. The second category added are parcels that are 10 acres or less that are encroached upon by permanent habitable improvements that are neither intentional or negligent, and the third category it adds is parcels 40 acres or less that no longer possess National Forest, are remote, or are inaccessible."
"It's very conservatively used, so since 2007 we've got electronic data recording Small Tracts Act conveyances, the agency has only conveyed less than 500 acres." Tait said they have several millions of acres across the nation, so the fraction of acreage involved wouldn't be too visible to the public, like local U.S. Forest lands Don Carter State Park in Gainesville or the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.
The Small Tract rule change is in conjunction with updates to the 2018 Farm Bill. More information about that bill can be found here.
More specific information from the USDA Forest Service about the small tracts of land rule change can be found here.