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 PRESS RELEASE: House Committee on Resources 6/29/05

US Forest Service: Timber Sales Tied Up In Litigation
Legal delays fuel unhealthy forests and catastrophic fire

Washington, DC - According to a letter from the U.S. Forest Service to Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) approximately 1.6 billion board feet or nearly 80 percent of the average annual sale of timber volume from national forestland is currently tied up in litigation.

Walden, the Chair of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, wrote the Forest Service in May requesting information about the timber sale program and any resulting appeals and litigation.

"The timber sales program is in worse shape than even these disturbing numbers would indicate. Not counted in this figure are the proposed sales currently tied up in the administrative appeals process, nor those held up while waiting for a resolution on litigation facing other sales," said Walden. "As we learned during our work on the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, the Forest Service spends an enormous amount of time and money fighting a very organized and well-funded appeals effort. The result is weakened forest health, weakened rural economies and a great deal of taxpayer money going into appeals and litigation rather than into good stewardship of our forests."

The information comes in light of an expected Senate amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill today that would prohibit federal funds from being used to build roads in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska. The amendment would essentially shut down any commercial timber activity. Environmental groups have litigated and appealed so many timber sales in the Tongass that the program has budget deficits. Now environmentalists want the program shut down, ironically in the name of fiscal conservatism.

"Rampant litigation is clearly stifling what could be a vibrant industry in the United States," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). "Forest practices have improved dramatically and the science supporting the need to actively manage for forest health reasons has become widely known. Yet well-funded environmental groups still find it necessary to oppose the cutting of any tree for any reason. While this may be good for environmental attorneys, it isn't very good for unhealthy forests and communities in need of good-paying jobs."

The Forest Service's timber sale program currently provides approximately 2 billion board feet of volume a year. At its peak under Democratic President Jimmy Carter 11 billion board feet were sold a year. With 1.6 billion board feet of timber tied up in lawsuits, lumber for more than 111,000 homes are stuck in the courts.

Even more troubling is that the Forest Service estimates that nearly 190 million acres of forestland are at high risk of catastrophic fire. Annual mortality on national forest system land is about 10 billion board feet a year while the total growth is about 20 billion board feet. The two billion board feet offered through timber sales every year is failing to address not only what the forest is growing, but also what is dying on our national forests.

Among the regions with the largest number of board feet tied up in litigation are the Intermountain Region (Utah, Nevada, Southern Idaho), Northern Region (Montana, North Dakota, Northern Idaho), Pacific Northwest Region (Oregon, Washington), and the Alaska Region.

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