Washington, DC — The first national forest plans developed under the Bush Administration’s “Healthy Forest” rules are big money losers for the taxpayer, according to agency documents compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Plans from just three Rocky Mountain forests would cost in excess of $1.5 billion from unprofitable timber sales and associated expenses – an amount more than four times the total U.S. commitment for tsunami relief.
In each case, the Forest Service rejected the “environmentally preferred alternative” identified in the required review under the National Environmental Policy Act even though the environmentally preferred alternative was significantly less costly. Instead, the Forest Service selected the more intensive and expensive alternatives favored by the timber industry.
“In the new zero sum budget reality, every dollar lost on the national forests is a dollar that cannot be spent on medical research, education and housing,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the Bush Administration promises to reduce discretionary domestic spending. “Realistically, these ‘Healthy Forest’ plans are nothing more than healthy corporate subsidies at taxpayer expense.”
The forest plans cost so much because they involve vast “vegetation management” operations to clear out wide swathes of land in the name of “fire and insect hazard management.” These sales lose money because taxpayers foot the bill for building roads and other operations that make the extensive logging possible.
For example –
- Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota has proposed an amendment of their Land and Resource Management Plan that would run up net losses of $969 million in the coming decade;
- Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest is proposing to eliminate more than three-quarters of its inventoried roadless area at a net loss of $218 million; and
- One single project, the East Fork Fire Salvage in Utah’s Wasatch-Cache National Forest, proposes to exacerbate already serious water quality and soil erosion problems by cutting dead trees at a final cost of $325 million to the taxpayer.
Even some of the smaller “Healthy Forests” salvage sales are lavishly expensive. For instance, the Duck Creek Fuels Treatment Project in Utah’s Dixie National Forest proposes to lose $10.9 million, or $5,000 for each and every “structure” (such as a retirement cabin) in the planning area.
“The environmentally preferred alternatives are greener in both an ecological and an economic sense,” Ruch added, pointing to logging roads as both expensive to build and maintain (with an estimated system-wide $8.4 billion backlog of in deferred maintenance) as well as the primary source of sediment in forest streams from erosion. “We already more roads through our national forests than exist in the entire nation of Russia – 386,000 miles in our forests versus 368,000 in Russia.”