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Not for sale

Remember the effort launched by the White House two years ago to sell off billions of dollars of surplus federal land? Despite all the fanfare surrounding the venture, it is more or less on hold - as increasing numbers of federal agencies seem reluctant to dispense with their land.

Such a slow-up in the program may not be all that lamentable. Granted, the federal government does have many pieces of property that are clearly unused and unneeded. Selling such surplus property to developers or private families may make good economic sense - provided the government gets a fair return on the land.

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But why the pell-mell rush to dispense with public lands in the first place? At a time when housing tracts and shopping malls are gobbling up more and more of the US landscape, there's a strong case to be made for keeping acreage under protected federal - that is, public - control.

Then, land sales, if they are to take place - could occur on a selective, case-by-case basis, as the situation warrants.

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