Timber Road Tax Debate and Poll
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The GAO reported that timber road construction cost American taxpayers $245 million from 1992-1994. Despite this, the Forest Service has requested $37.4 million to pay for the "engineering" costs of constructing and reconstructing 3,400 miles of new and existing roads. There are already more than 440,000 miles of roads in the National Forest System – enough to circle the globe 17 times. The primary way in which tax dollars are spent on the construction of logging roads is through direct appropriations from Congress. The Forest Service uses this money to pay for the engineering and design costs of building and reconstructing logging roads in National Forests.
By far the biggest money-loser is the Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which lost $33 million overall in Fiscal 1997. One reason for this is the 79 miles of new roads that were constructed. Because of the difficulty in construction and the terrain, these are some of the most expensive roads in the Forest Service. The Tongass Forest already has 4,600 miles of permanent roads built in part at taxpayer expense. The agency's plan calls for building up to 110 miles of new roads each year. Part of this cost to the taxpayer would benefit foreign companies in Japan and elsewhere. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) offered an amendment to the Fiscal 1999 Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 4193) to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for the construction of logging roads in the Tongass National Forest. On July 23, the House Republicans rejected the amendment, 186-237.
If the idea is that taxpayers build logging roads on national land so that timber companies can buy our trees. Then if it cost more to build the roads than we make from tree sales, then we need to charge more for our trees or stop building logging roads.
U.S. Forest Service "commodity" timber sales provide timber to logging companies at below-market prices. Private timber companies end up paying only $5 per tree for timber taken from public lands. In fact, the federal timber sales program actually loses money because the amounts paid to the government by the companies buying the timber do not even cover all of the costs associated with preparing and administering the sales. The program resulted in a $111 million net loss to taxpayers in 1997 and has damaged many old growth forests and wildlife habitats.