Washington, DC – Today the U.S. Forest Service released its rule to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the national 2001 Roadless Rule. In the final stage of its current rulemaking process, the Forest Service finalized its preferred alternative to fully exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, opening up millions of acres to road building and logging in the nation’s largest national forest.
“Exempting the nation’s largest national forest from the Roadless Rule will carry a hefty price tag for taxpayers across the country. The new U.S. Forest Service proposal is nothing more than an unjustified giveaway to the timber industry at taxpayers’ expense,” said Autumn Hanna vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The new rule opens up several million acres of the Tongass National Forest to timber sales which historically have returned only a few pennies on each dollar expended. Under the Forest Service’s management, taxpayers have lost money on virtually every Tongass timber sale since the 1980s. Taxpayers for Common Sense calculated these losses in a new report released this August that found the Forest Service lost more than $1.7 billion while “selling” Tongass timber since 1980.
The Forest Service has been able to use the Roadless Rule’s flexibility to approve more than 50 projects in roadless areas in the Tongass, from mining operations to aerial trams. Nationally, savings from the Roadless Rule has reduced the Forest Service’s road maintenance backlog from $8.4 billion in 2000 to $3.4 billion in 2019.
In support of the Roadless repeal, the Forest Service published a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed rule last October. Neither the costs nor the benefits side of the ledger was accurate, however, according to the budget watchdog group. The analysis neglected to include several costs like increased losses from timber sales and increased road costs. The omission was notable given that in the new analysis, the Forest Service projects more than a 1,000 additional miles of roads in roadless areas over the next century. The mistakes were compounded by shoddy math that overstated the benefits presented by nearly seven times. These combined errors obscured the fact that existing Roadless protections save taxpayers money.
In addition to reducing taxpayer costs, Tongass roadless areas provide economic benefits for fish and wildlife. Tourism and commercial fisheries make up approximately 25% of regional employment and are both directly dependent upon the protected roadless areas of the Tongass.
“Removal of the roadless rule in the Tongass is shortsighted and unnecessary. Heavily subsidized timber sales will expand and lock in taxpayer losses for many years to come. The country is in an economic crisis and repealing a rule that has saved taxpayers billions of dollars in road maintenance and liabilities is just plain fiscally reckless,” concluded Hanna.
ABOUT: Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) is a nonpartisan budget watchdog that has served as an independent voice for the American taxpayer since 1995. TCS works to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and that government operates within its means.
Media contact: firstname.lastname@example.org