Although Ross Gorte has retired from the Congressional Research Service, where he made a career of critiquing fiscally irrational Forest Service timber management, his analytical skills are undiminished. In a report published this month by Headwaters Economics, Gorte and co-author Ben Alexander show that there has been no “transition to a second-growth economy” in the Tongass timber program. The Obama administration has promoted second-growth wood as the lynch pin of its Tongass political strategy. But, as Gorte and Alexander report, the FS budget and sale numbers show the transition has proven to be all rhetoric and no substance.
The cost and revenue figures should shock the conscience of any fiscal conservative. In the most recent five-year period of data (FY 09-13), the Forest Service spent $100 million more on its timber sale program than purchasers paid for the trees. And that’s selling 87% old-growth volume. The finances of second-growth, which no one wants to buy at any price, will prove even more fiscally ruinous (e.g., this pile of rotting logs from the Ocean Boulevard second-growth logging project where the FS paid the purchaser to cut the trees, not a single one of which ended up as a useable wood product).
None of this old-growth logging promotes “forest health,” decreases “fire risk,” “improves” wildlife habitat, or serves any other “restoration” or “ecosystem services” objective. This is pure, unadulterated, old-fashioned clearcut logging. Timber jobs in southeast Alaska number 281 (0.9% of the private sector workforce), while tourism and recreation employ 6,700. Tongass timber sale spending is all about the 100+ FS employees who make their living planning, selling and administering logging, even as FS recreation staff levels decline.
I could go on. Read the report. Here’s hoping that Ross gains even more traction as a private-sector advocate for land management fiscal sanity than he did within government.