If you listen to most western politicians – regardless of political party – talk about the U.S. Forest Service’s timber sale program you’ve likely heard them describe it as a failure. Many of these same politicians give the general public the impression that next to zero logging is taking place on America’s national forests because of countless lawsuits from “extremists” and “obstructionists.”
The other day, to dig a little deeper into this issue, I contacted the U.S. Forest Service Northern Region’s public affairs officer. I told her I wanted to compare the annual timber sale volume attained by the U.S. Forest Service in Montana and north Idaho with the timber sale volume targets set by the U.S. Forest Service, which are based on the funding the agency receives from Congress.
After the Forest Service’s public affairs officer and myself shared a chuckle about how terrible the U.S. Forest Service’s websites are, especially if you want to explore some of these issues in more detail, I was directed to this website.
I was told, “Look at the Periodic Timber Sale Accomplishment Report (PTSAR) reports. The 4th quarter of each year is the final report for that particular fiscal year. Line T and Line U give the planned and completed targets.”
So, that’s what I did to come up with the chart above. There’s lots of ways to look at those numbers I suppose. One way is to say that overall, during the past 15 years, the U.S. Service in the Northern Region has attained 89% of their timber sale volume targets, which again are based on funding from Congress. 89% seems like a B+, if we were grading papers in school, and far from a failing grade.
Another way to look at those numbers is that in 7 of the past 15 years the U.S. Forest Service has attained between 94% and 117% of their timber sale volume targets. When is the last time you heard a U.S. senator or representative from Montana or Idaho celebrate and share numbers like this with the general public?
Also at the link provide by the Forest Service, there’s a section about “Uncut Volume Under Contract” and “Timber Sale Program Statistics.” That information was also very interesting to me, but I noticed that no link was provided. I was told by the Forest Service public affairs officer “Those links are disabled right now as the reports contained errors so we removed them.” I have to wonder what errors those reports contained and how long the errors were in those reports. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the timber industry objected to not only the specifics of what was contained in that “Uncut Volume Under Contract” report, but also perhaps objected to its presence in the first place. Hopefully the errors are corrected soon and the links go back up on the Forest Service website.
In March of 2015, the Flathead National Forest’s Joe Krueger was interviewed on Montana Public Radio about their on-going forest plan revision process. One question was specifically about the Flathead National Forest’s projected timber sale volume in their new forest plan. Krueger had this to say:
“A big factor that constrains how much wood products is coming off the [Flathead National Forest] is our existing budget. So that number of 28 million board feet of timber that we’re projecting as our timber sale quantity is constrained by budgets.”
Which brings us back to those western politicians, especially the ones who hold the U.S. taxpayer’s purse-strings and divvy up the federal budget. While practically every time any of these politicians talk about logging on National Forests they will blame lawsuits from “extremists” and “obstructionists” environmentalists for the (supposed) lack of logging, when is the last time you heard the Montana or Idaho congressional delegation call on the rest of Congress to greatly increase the U.S. Forest Service’s timber sale budget?
Seems to me that since the U.S. Forest Service in the Northern Region has managed to attain 89% of their targeted timber sale volume over the past 15 years that our political leaders should be much more honest and share this fact with the general public, and perhaps if they want to increase logging on National Forests the politicians should look in the mirror and put money where their mouth is.
NOTE: This post has been updated to include the total annual timber sale volume target in CCF, in addition to the percentage of that volume that was attained in any given year. As you can see, the timber volume targets themselves have changed over time.
In fact, the 2016 target is 72% higher than the 2002 target. And in general, the target has increased steadily over the past 15 years. This should put the 89% attainment in even greater focus, as the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region has attained 89% of their steadily increasing timber sale volume targets over the past 15 years.
Also, corrected was incorrect date for FY 2006. Originally, I listed 44%, but upon further review that 44% was only the attainment for one national forest in the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region, not the total attainment for the region, which in FY 2006 was actually 76%. I apologize for the error, which was in part caused by the fact that for some reason the Forest Service chart for FY 2006 lead with the individual national forests, not the region-wide totals, as all the charts from the other years did.