Theodore Roosevelt created the Tongass National Forest in Southeastern Alaska through a presidential proclamation in 1907. It is now the largest national forest in the United States at 16.9 million acres, larger than the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. It is also home to an unbelievable example of waste and corporate welfare.
The Forest Service manages the Tongass, including the sale of publicly-owned timber for logging. While the Forest Service receives payment for the timber that is harvested, it must spend a considerable amount preparing and administering the sales. According to the Forest Service, it spent $139.1 million from 2008 through 2013 on timber sales (including road construction) in the Tongass and received $8.6 million in proceeds from these sales, a net loss of $130.5 million.
The Forest Service has a long history of mismanaging money in the Tongass, and worse, there is currently no sign that pattern is slated to change. The Big Thorne Project, approved in 2013, allows for the harvest of 148.9 million board feet over a 10-year period. This one sale will roughly equal the amount of timber sold in the Tongass in all sales from 2008 through 2012. Including sale preparation, sale administration and engineering support, the Forest Service estimates this sale will cost $15.7 million, with an estimated bid value of $2.6 million. The Forest Service estimates that it will lose $13.1million from this sale – equal to $0.09 per board foot – but history suggests the losses from this sale will, at the end of the day, be much higher.
Between 2008 and 2012, the Forest Service reported a loss of $108.7 million on timber projects in the Tongass. Based on reports by the Forest Service, a more accurate estimate of losses for the Big Thorne sale would be at least $110 million – almost 10 times what the Forest Service itself has projected!
The federal government has a responsibility to ensure a fair return to the public for the development of taxpayer-owned resources. With an $18 trillion debt, taxpayers simply can’t afford to lock in a pattern of losing more than $20 million per year from timber sales on the Tongass. It’s time to put an end to these subsidies.