Over a hundred years ago laws were enacted and
subsidies granted that have contributed to the clearing of North American forests. Many of
these subsidies still exist and continue to encourage the commercial cutting of timber
within national forests. Unfortunately, much of this logging occurs in areas located high
on mountain ridges which are too dry and cold for reforesting. The unsightly deforested
ridges can be seen from miles away. In an effort to prevent further destruction of
national forests, environmental organizations such as the Wilderness Society have
campaigned for years to stop these subsidies. (Cairncross,
Cutting Contracts in the Tongass National Forest, Alaska
Below is a description of the timber cutting contracts that
the U.S. government made with KPC (the Ketchikan Pulp Company) and APC (the Alaska Pulp
Corporation) and some of the consequences.
During the 1950's, the Forest Service signed 50-year contracts with two timber
companies. In return for building and operating pulp mills, the companies were guaranteed
long-term access to low-cost Tongass timber. The Ketchikan Pulp Company (KPC) built a pulp
mill in Ketchikan, and the Alaska Lumber and Pulp Company (later known as Alaska Pulp
Corporation or APC) built one in Sitka.
These long-term timber contracts have dominated management of the Tongass - enabling
the contract holders to purchase 400 year-old hemlock, spruce, and cedar trees for the
price of a cheeseburger and allowing about one-half million acres of prime Tongass timber
to be clearcut. The ecological and economic legacy of the long-term contracts is evident:
pollution, depleted resources, and ecological harm. Association of
Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. 1996. Tongass in transition: Blueprint
for a Sustainable Future; the AFSEEE - Sponsored Alternative Plan for the Tongass National
Forest in southeast Alaska. 102 pages.
"U.S. Taxpayers Subsidize Tongass
Clearcutting and Road Building"
The original fifty-year contracts made it possible for the companies to purchase
old-growth trees on the Tongass at bargain-basement prices - $2 (or less) per thousand
The Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990 modified the contracts so that KPC and APC had to
pay the same rates as other timber purchasers. However, a recent lawsuit by KPC negates
this reform. The government must pay back almost all of the money that KPC paid (since
1991) above the rates of the original contracts.
Even when the contract holders were paying higher rates for timber, the Tongass timber
program still lost enormous sums of money. A primary reason is that the American public
has unwittingly traded Tongass old-growth forests for logging roads. An unusual government
accounting system allows timber companies to bill the Forest Service for the costs of
building logging roads. This system enables purchasers to offset much or even all of the
costs of purchasing public timber.
KPC gets money back for every road it builds on the Tongass - even when the price of
the timber is not high enough to cover the costs of the roads. Currently, thousands of
miles of roads crisscross the Tongass - about three-quarters of a mile of road for every
square mile of forest. Association of Forest
Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. 1996. Tongass in transition: Blueprint for a
Sustainable Future; the AFSEEE - Sponsored Alternative Plan for the Tongass National
Forest in southeast Alaska. 102 pages.
Cost to Taxpayers
Factions of federal agencies appear to have differences
Traditionally, the Forest Service's Logging Operation annual financial
report has been accepted without challenge. This year, however, its claims of making a $59
million profit during the 1995 fiscal year have been directly attacked.
The president's Council of Economic Advisers admit that the Forest
Service collected $616 million in timber receipts, but asserts that the service spent $234
million more than that on timber management and other associated costs.
Subsidizing the extraction of natural resources has been a method used
to stimulate the economies and growth of particular areas. But conservationists have long
maintained that the Forest Service's subsidies in the timber program have cost the federal
taxpayers millions in lost revenues.
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