The US Forest Service (USFS) recently proposed a new major timber sale in in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska which could costs taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
The South Revilla Integrated Resource Project’s newly released draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) outlines plans for new timber sales inside the Tongass, the largest national forest in the US. Because Tongass timber sales have consistently cost more to conduct than they generate in revenue over the last four decades, taxpayers stand to lose millions of dollars under current USFS plans for the project.
In the draft EIS, the USFS analyzes four potential plans for the South Revilla project. Under its most aggressive alternative, Alternative 2, the USFS would offer up 92 million board feet for timber harvest over a 15-year period. Over the last 40 years, USFS timber sales in the Tongass have cost taxpayers over $1.7 billion, averaging losses of $635 for every thousand board feet (mbf) of timber sold. If USFS expenses and revenue from any South Revilla sales are consistent with the historical trends, the project could end up costing taxpayers roughly $58 million.
The USFS justifies the project and associated timber sales by calling it an economic driver, but subsidizing Tongass timber harvest is both expensive and ineffective. Due to annual legislative riders, all Tongass timber sales must appraise positive with a built-in profit and risk allowance for harvesters, which was recently increased to 17 percent in May 2020. But such guaranteed profits haven’t kept the industry from declining due to market factors. In between 2003 and 2017, Tongass-related logging and sawmill jobs declined by nearly 70 percent, even though taxpayers lost $350-400 million subsidizing timber sales in the period. Planning more subsidized sales on south Revillagigedo island is a failure to learn from history, and forces taxpayers into losing millions of dollars more.
The next step in the process will be for the USFS to finalize its EIS and issue a record of decision. Under current plans, that would clear the way for 38 miles of new roads and new timber harvest over 5,100 acres in the Tongass.
As part of the draft EIS process USFS is required to solicit public comments. The public comment period ends October 19, 2020.
Photo credit: Neil Moralee via Flickr