Heritage Forests Campaign Once They're Gone, They're Gone Forever
The Roadless Rule
Threats to Roadless Areas
Politics and Policy
America's Roadless Areas
Enjoying Your Wild Forests
Roadless Areas by State
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Fact Sheets & Reports
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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

In This Section


" About the Roadless Rule

" Economics of Roadless Areas

" Environmental Benefits

" Recreational Benefits

" Roadless Rule Timeline

The Economics of Roadless Areas

Roads in National Forests Waste Billions of Taxpayer Dollars

Several reports over the past decade by government agencies and Taxpayers 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, largely at the behest of timber companies who rely on government roads in remote areas to facilitate deforestation of public lands.

During the 2004 public comment period to overturn the Roadless Rule, which prevented most costly road building in wild national forests, prominent American economists sent a letter to the administration to advise against the new rule and further road building "The original roadless rule is of far greater benefit to federal taxpayers," they said. "Given the economic cost to taxpayers of additional road building, the losses incurred from the timber program, and the accountability problems of the Forest Service, changing the rule is ill-advised."

Road Maintenance

The National Forest System contains over 380,000 miles of roads and 60,000 miles of unmapped logging roads, enough to circle the globe 17 times. Only 21% of these roads meet adequate road maintenance standards. Many have been rendered undrivable 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.

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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.

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Currently the timber industry has access to timber in national forests where roads already exist. Billions of board feet of timber are already available in Alaska's Tongass National Forest without the need to construct expensive taxpayer-subsidized roads. Additionally, there are 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. 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 8 out of 10 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.

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Photos of Forests