Couverden Timber Sale still fleeces taxpayers


Posted: Tuesday, September 03, 2002

On July 23, the Forest Service published in the Federal Register its intent to cut an estimated 25 million board feet of timber in its proposed Couverden Timber Sale, about midway between Gustavus and Juneau.

Logging at Point Couverden has an expensive history. In the mid-1980s the 55 million board feet Point Couverden Timber Sale achieved a certain notoriety when Sen. William Proxmire gave his "Fleece of the Month" award jointly to the Forest Service and Congress, and stated, "At Couverden in 1984 and 1985 the Forest Service spent over $5.5 million putting in almost 30 miles of roads and eight bridges in advance of a timber sale which drew no bidders."

When the Forest Service finally found a buyer for the timber (the now-defunct Alaska Pulp Company), its price was reduced to rock-bottom "base rates" - the lowest price for which the Forest Service can legally sell timber, which put its total value at about $113,000 - barely 2 percent of what the Forest Service had spent building roads.

What will the economics look like for this proposed sale? To prepare and administer a timber sale on the Tongass the Forest Service spends about $100 of the public's money per 1,000 board feet of timber. On this proposed sale, that translates to about $2.5 million.

The proposed sale comes at a time when the timber industry cannot even manage to sell the timber it already has under contract, a situation exacerbated by the fact that the timber at Point Couverden is mostly small hemlock. If the timber on the proposed sale is sold at base rates, the entire 25 million board feet - enough to build about 1,000 houses - will go for about $55,000. For the timber industry this sale might be considered "economic", but for the taxpayer it is an economic disaster.

There has been a lot of talk recently of corporate wrongdoing. If the Tongass National Forest timber program was a corporation, it would be bankrupt and shareholders would be in court charging its managers with malfeasance over activities such as the proposed timber sale at Point Couverden.

In a sense, we are all "stockholders" in our nation. It's time the Forest Service gave us stockholders a break. Losing forever the proposed industrial-scale timber sale at Point Couverden would be a good place to start.

James Mackovjak


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