Report accuses Forest Service of mismanagement

The Associated Press 
Bellingham Herald

WASHINGTON, D.C. -July 11, 2002 - National forests in 16 states - mainly in the West - have a road maintenance backlog of more than $100 million each, even as taxpayers provide more than $100 million in annual subsidies to the timber industry to build new roads for logging, a watchdog group says.

In a report to be released today, Taxpayers for Common Sense outlined what it calls "out-of-control" subsidies by the U.S. Forest Service to the timber industry.

Next year's federal budget includes more than $116 million in subsidies for the timber industry - mostly as payments for construction of thousands of miles of new logging roads, the report said.

The subsidies are provided even as more than $8 billion in needed maintenance of existing national forest roads goes undone, the report said.

The report, "Lost in the Forest: How the Forest Service's Misdirection, Mismanagement and Mischief Squanders Your Tax Dollars," said a handful of states - topped by California, Oregon and Alaska - have maintenance backlogs of more than $200 million each.

California's backlog alone exceeds $1 billion, while Oregon and Alaska each need more than $800 million in forest road maintenance, the report said. Other states needing significant maintenance include Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona and Washington.

In each of those states, the timber industry has received subsidies to build hundreds of miles of new roads, the report said.

"Corporate welfare for the timber industry is out of control," said Jill Lancelot, president of the taxpayers group, which monitors the Forest Service, among other agencies.

"Taxpayers are shelling out big bucks for new road construction to facilitate commercial logging. To add insult to injury we are left with an $8 billion road maintenance bill," Lancelot said.

Forest Service spokesman Joe Walsh said the agency had just received the report late Wednesday and was reviewing it before commenting.

But an industry spokesman called the report misleading.

Money for road construction "is a far cry from a subsidy," said John Mechem, spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group that represents more than 250 forest product companies and related organizations.

"Roads serve many different purposes other than timber harvesting," Mechem said. "One is forest health. The main use is recreation and access to other places, including private lands."

The timber industry has argued that forest health is jeopardized if roads cannot be built to remove trees that serve as fuel for wildfires. Forest Service officials "need to thin these forests and they can't do it on their own," Mechem said.

He compared Forest Service payments for road construction to those made by the Army to paint a barracks.

In its report, the taxpayers group criticized the Bush administration for trying to undo a Clinton-era policy of restricting road building and commercial logging in key areas of national forests. The so-called roadless rule ropes off 58.5 million acres - nearly one-third of all federal forests - from developers, loggers and mining companies.

Environmentalists hail the rule as necessary protection for the most pristine parts of the national forest system, but some timber industry and off-road vehicle groups call the policy overly restrictive and say it could increase the risk of catastrophic fires.

Reps. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., have sponsored a bill that would make into law the Clinton administration ban on logging and road-building in designated areas. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, is expected to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

Unless the roadless rule becomes law, taxpayer subsidies to the timber industry - and the price taxpayers must pay for long-term road maintenance - will only increase, Lancelot said.

"Roads in our national forests are crumbling, while the administration just sits on its hands and ignores the problem," she said.


On the Net:

"Lost in the Forest" report:


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