Democratic News

As this session of Congress nears its end, so does this year’s fire season. We expect pressure may reemerge on the topic of salvage logging -- a controversial practice where there has been a lot of rhetoric but few hard facts.
Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is filling that gap with a useful analysis of a high-profile salvage logging project – the Biscuit Fire Recovery Project.  The Biscuit Project is complex, and so is the 70-page GAO Report.  Some of the key findings run counter to many of the past claims for salvage logging:
ü      Logging operations have lost $2 million in taxpayer dollars [p 7: $10.7 million spent or planned to be spent vs. $8.8 million collected].
ü      Post-fire logging activities generally were not delayed by lawsuits.  [p 33]
ü      “… it remains to be seen how much of the other recovery work -- wildlife habitat rehabilitation, fuel management zones, monitoring and the adaptive management study -- will be accomplished given the lack of specific funding and schedules.”  [p 57; also p 49])
In 2002, the Biscuit Fire burned hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest in Oregon and California.  Afterwards, the Forest Service proposed one of the biggest Federal timber sales in modern history, along with a number of other projects designed for forest restoration, fire protection and scientific research.  Some of the logging that occurred was extremely controversial, including logging in Roadless Areas and a protected Botanical Area.  Last year, Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Ron Wyden asked GAO to study the project’s development, costs and status of forest restoration and other important activities.
Said Bingaman, “This effort appears to be one of many instances where the Forest Service promised restoration and fuels reduction in conjunction with timber sales, did the logging at a cost of millions of tax dollars, and still has not started most of the restoration and other work.  Taxpayers are going to have to spend millions more just cleaning up the damage from the logging than the government made from the timber sales.*
Meanwhile, as another recent study concluded, the logging killed 70 percent of the natural tree regeneration and elevated wildfire fuel loads.  At the same time, promises of community fire protection, habitat restoration and scientific analyses remain unscheduled and unfulfilled.”
*  The Forest Service will spend more on salvage sale clean-up costs [$5.7 million on brush disposal, planting and logging road maintenance, p.39] than it made from those sales [$3.69 million, Table 4, p. 40].  Therefore, those sales would have lost $2 million even if the USFS spent nothing on pre-sale environmental analyses, planning and administration.
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