Agency getting more money than it wanted to log national forests
RENO – Forest Service officials might receive an extra $25 million from Congress to accelerate logging of national forests whether they want it or not.
The Senate followed the House’s lead Tuesday and approved $250 million for the Forest Service’s timber sale budget next year – $25 million more than the agency requested and President Clinton had proposed.
The budget language in the Interior Department spending bill also directs the Forest Service to log 17 percent more timber than the agency had planned for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 3.6 billion board feet compared with the agency’s goal of 3.1 billion board feet.
Senators rejected, 54-45, an annual attempt by Nevada Democrat Richard Bryan to reduce spending on federal logging.
”This was a disappointing, but not unexpected outcome,” Bryan said Tuesday.
”The timber industry is simply trying to protect its cash cow – America’s forests,” he said.
Bryan proposed cutting $30 million from the Republican-backed $250 million timber sale budget, directing half of the savings to the Forest Service to fight wild fires and half to the federal treasury for debt reduction.
”Having already experienced one of the worst fire seasons in history last summer and facing a dangerous situation this year, I wanted to make sure we had the proper planning and resources in place to respond to future wildfires,” Bryan said.
More than 1.7 million acres of forest and rangeland burned in Nevada last summer, an area larger than the state of Delaware.
The Forest Service was on Bryan’s side, preferring additional money be targeted toward fires. The agency hasn’t decided what it will do with the extra timber money if President Clinton ends up signing the spending bill into law, a spokesman said Tuesday.
”They are putting in more than we wanted,” said Chris Wood, a top aide to Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck.
”We actually thought the president’s budget was a more appropriate number for the timber sale program,” he said.
”Frankly, if there is additional money, there are other places we could use it. We have some serious needs right now funding our temporary employees in the field, recreation funding and obviously fire is a concern,” Wood said.
The Forest Service also opposed the language setting a target of offering 3.6 billion board of timber for sale from national forests in fiscal year 2001.
During the peak years of the 1980s, the agency logged as much as 12 billion board feet a year on national forests, including up to 4 billion board feet in Oregon and Washington alone.
But since the northern spotted owl was declared a threatened species in 1990 and federal judges found the Forest Service logging operations to be illegal in the early 1990s, the total output nationally has hovered closer to 3 billion board feet.
Wood said the agency doesn’t know yet if it’s possible to produce 3.6 billion board feet next year within existing environmental laws.
”We are analyzing it,” he said. ”Congress has now given us a timber target and they’ve said if you don’t make it, reprogram funding at the end of the fiscal year to make sure you do make it.”
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on forests, said the target was a return to years past when Congress directed specific outputs from national forests.
”We are simply trying to cause the Forest Service to live up to a minimum standard. They constantly have fallen woefully short of what they said they were going to do,” Craig said.
”They put up timber sales, get bids, then pull them down the moment an environmental group says, ‘No to that one and that one and that one,”’ the senator said.
Craig said Congress is already fully funding the agency’s’ $240 million fuel reduction program. He said Bryan’s proposal ”was clearly exposed as an anti-logging amendment.”
W. Henson Moore, president of the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, praised the Senate for choosing ”science over politics and common sense over environmental extremism.”
Bryan, a former governor who is retiring at the end of this year after two terms in the Senate, says the federal logging program costs more money than it returns to the federal treasury, resulting in so-called ”below cost timber sales.”
”It was my hope that we could have achieved the twin goals of providing more money for urgently needed fire management and control programs while at the same time cutting the Forest Service’s environmentally damaging and money-losing timber sale program,” Bryan said.
”One of these days the American people are going to wake up and realize the kind of corporate welfare we have been giving to the timber industry for decades and demand some greater accountability and fiscal responsibility.”
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