This year’s House Interior Appropriations bill prohibits roadbuilding subsidies for money-losing timber sales in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. If enacted into law, the provision could prevent more taxpayer losses from subsidized timber sales as the U.S. Forest Service gets set to finalize a new rule to open new swathes of the Tongass to roadbuilding.
For decades, taxpayers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to money losing timber sales in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Last year, the U.S. Forest Service published a proposed rule that would exempt the Tongass altogether from the 2001 Roadless Rule – a general moratorium on roadbuilding. If the Roadless repeal rule is finalized, it could significantly increase taxpayer losses from timber sales offered by the Forest Service. The provision in this year’s spending bill would mitigate the rule’s impact.
In the past 20 years alone, taxpayers have lost $600 million from timber sales in the Tongass. Financial losses from federal timber sale operations in the Tongass stem from Forest Service policies that favor industry at the expense of federal taxpayers. The agency spends years analyzing timber stands and preparing them for harvest at significant cost to the taxpayer. Yet receipts from these timber sales generate only a fraction of what’s spent. The imbalance between spending and receipts is exacerbated by the agency’s willingness to cover the expensive tab to construct and maintain forest roads for harvesters.
Systemic issues in the preparation and offering of timber harvest projects in the forest have consistently cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars per year. The decision to include language prohibiting roadbuilding for timber sales in this year’s Interior spending bill is the right one for federal taxpayers. The bill now moves to the full House Appropriations Committee for consideration, which is currently scheduled for Friday, July 7.