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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

The Economics of Roadless Areas

Or Why U.S. Taxpayers Subsidize Timber Corporations

Several reports over the past decade by government agencies and Taxpayer for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, detailing the U.S. Forest Service accounting practices illustrate a pattern of fiscal mismanagement. An astronomical road maintenance backlog, a continually failing timber program and a poor record of financial accountability has resulted in billions of American taxpayer dollars wasted.

Road Maintenance

The National Forest System contains over 380,000 miles of roads and 60,000 miles unmapped logging roads, enough to circle the globe 17 times. Only 21 percent of these roads meet adequate road maintenance standards. Many have been rendered un-drivable and even more are in such poor shape that they can cause erosion which can flood municipal water supplies with silt and mud. The current road maintenance backlog is estimated at $8.4 billion, with 16 states maintaining a backlog of $100 million each.

For more information check out:

Timber Sales

According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), the U.S. Forest Service timber program cost American taxpayers over $2 billion from 1992-1997, despite state and private lands providing the vast majority of the nation’s timber. In fact, national forests account for only 4% of U.S. timber production.

For more information check out:

Currently the timber industry has access to timber in national forests where roads already exist. Billions of board feet of timber is already available in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest without the need to construct expensive taxpayer-subsidized roads. Additionally, there is 3 billion board feet on private and state land in the Tongass region. Yet timber industry allies continue their attempts to waste taxpayer dollars and the Bush Administration moves forward with plans to log irreplaceable trees in defiance of the Roadless Rule. Click here to read about 49 timber sales in the Tongass that violate the roadless rule.


Over the past decade the U.S. Forest Service has failed eight out of ten Inspector General audits due to misplaced funds, unnecessary expenditures, disorganized spending procedures, preferential treatment to certain contractors, etc. The most recent audit indicated that the mismanagement is not improving stating, "little has been done to correct the problems sufficiently."

In August 2002 the Forest Service realized that $215 million in firefighting funds had been misplaced due to an accounting error. Although this irresponsible error appeared to result in additional funds for an expensive firefighting season, the lack of a well managed accounting system continues to waste taxpayer dollars. However, upon further review the Forest Service realized it had actually spent the $215 million, raising further questions about the agency’s ability to properly manage its funds.

For more information check out this fact sheet from Taxpayers for Common Sense: The U.S. Forest Service: A Federal Agency Run Amok

Additional Reports:

From the Ashes: Reducing The Harmful Effects And Rising Costs of Western Wildfires.

Photos of Forests