Taxpayers to finance healthy forest chop
President Bush's first national forest plan proposals will be costly to the taxpayer and beneficial only to the timber industry, organisation Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has stated.Developed under the "Healthy Forest" rules, plans from just three Rocky Mountain forests would cost in excess of US $1.5 billion from unprofitable timber sales and associated expenses.
This is four times more than the amount of money given by the US to the recent Indian Ocean Tsunami relief fund.
In each of these plans, the Forest Service rejected the "environmentally preferred alternative" identified in the required review under the National Environmental Policy Act, even though the greener options were also considerably cheaper.
The Forest Service rather selected the more intensive and expensive options that are also known to be favoured by the timber industry, according to PEER.
"In the new zero sum budget reality, every dollar lost on the national forests is a dollar that cannot be spent on medical research, education or housing," PEER executive director Jeff Ruch said. "Realistically, these so-called Healthy Forest plans are nothing more than healthy corporate subsidies at taxpayer expense."
Mr Ruch also pointed out that the Bush Administration recently promised to reduce discretionary domestic spending.
The forest plans cost so much because they involve vast "vegetation management" operations to clear out large areas of land in order to implement what the Bush Administration refers to as "fire and insect hazard management".
That is, cutting down and clearing huge wooded areas in order to keep the forests healthy, a tactic that has been widely contested by environmentalists as the answer to improve the health of America's national forests (see related story).
But taxpayers will have to foot the bill for building roads and other operations that will make the extensive logging project possible, according to the agency documents compiled by PEER:
Even some of the smaller Healthy Forest salvage sales are expensive, such as the Duck Creek Fuels Treatment Project in Utah's Dixie National Forest, which proposes to lose US $10.9 million, or US $5,000 for each new structure (such as a retirement cabin) in the planning area.
As well as providing the primary source of sediment in forest streams, from erosion caused by logging, these roads are costly both to build and to maintain, Mr Ruch pointed out, with the estimated backlog of deferred maintenance currently standing at around US $8.4 million.
"The environmentally preferred alternatives are greener in both an ecological and an economic sense," he concluded. "At a total distance of 386,000 miles, we already have more roads through our national forests than the total number of roads in existence in the entire nation of Russia."
By Jane Kettle