WASHINGTON (AP) - A government study
blamed the Bush administration, not
lawsuits by environmentalists, for
adding to the cost of a logging project
in which the government spent $11
million to salvage less than $9 million
in timber from a wildfire.
The Government Accountability Office,
the investigative arm of Congress, said
the administration's decision to
dramatically increase logging, coupled
with the size of the fire and the
complexity of environmental laws, led to
The so-called "Biscuit fire" burned
almost 500,000 acres in Oregon and
California in 2002, making it largest
wildfire in the lower 48 states since
The Bush administration and its
Republican allies contended that
lawsuits filed by environmentalists led
to the increased costs.
Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey,
who directs U.S. forest policy, said the
report released Wednesday demonstrated
the need for a new law sponsored by Rep.
Greg Walden, R-Ore., to speed up logging
of burned forests and tree planting
after storms and wildfires.
"The pattern of litigation-related
delays associated with this project
bears poignant witness to the need for
congressional action on Greg Walden's
post-catastrophic restoration bill, as
the president called for in Los
Angeles," Rey said.
The bill would order that federal
forests hit by disasters larger than
1,000 acres be restored within months,
rather than years, before insects and
rot set in, diminishing the commercial
value of fire-killed timber.
President Bush urged Congress to pass
the bill during a visit Tuesday to
Southern California, where a giant
wildfire about 50 miles northwest of Los
Angeles was extinguished after nearly a
"I believe Congress needs to pass
further law that will enable us to
restore forests once they've been
burned," Bush said.
In an interview, Rey said techniques
authorized by the bill could have
allowed officials to begin work on the
Biscuit project years earlier, "and
diminished timber values could have been
Environmental groups and most
Democrats oppose the salvage-logging
bill, arguing that cutting large old
trees and planting new ones makes
forests more vulnerable to new fires and
less valuable as habitat for fish and
wildlife. They say it is better to allow
forests to come back on their own.
New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman,
ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy
and Natural Resources Committee, said
the GAO report demonstrated that the
Bush administration overreached in its
efforts to log large areas burned by the
"Taxpayers are going to have to spend
millions more just cleaning up the
damage from the logging than the
government made from the timber sales,"
Bingaman said. "At the same time,
promises of community fire protection,
habitat restoration and scientific
analyses remain unscheduled and
Overall, 12 salvage sales in the
burned areas were completed by the end
of 2005, resulting in harvests of about
67 million board feet of timber, the GAO
report said. The total was less than
one-fifth of the 367 million board feet
proposed for sale in an environmental
impact statement issued by the Bush
administration in 2004.
A board foot is the volume of a piece
of wood 1-foot square and 1-inch thick.
It takes about 10,000 board feet to
build a modest two-bedroom home.
"Forest staff overestimated the
timber available for harvest," the
report said, adding that administration
estimates that salvage logging would
create about 6,900 local jobs and $240
million in regional economic activity
now appear overly optimistic.
The Forest Service and other agencies
have spent $5 million and expect to
spend an additional $5.7 million on the
salvage sale of wood and other related
costs, the report said. Timber sales
from the logging are expected to
generate about $8.8 million in revenue.
Walden, in a statement, said the
Senate should adopt the House-passed
"With this fire season's record
scorching of lands, it's time to stop
fiddling, change the law, free our
foresters to respond ... and remove the
burned dead trees while they have
value," he said.
Wildfire "is the Katrina of our
forests, and the Senate is failing to
act," Walden said.