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The U.S. Forest Service loses money on taxpayer-subsidized timber sales and should focus its energy on creating jobs in the seafood and tourism industries instead, according to a report the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council issued this week.
The report, "Taxpayer Losses and Missed Opportunities," uses Forest Service data to back up SEACC's opposition to timber sales and the manner in which the Tongass National Forest is logged.
"This is a compilation of the most recent data," said SEACC spokeswoman Aurah Landau. "There's always the question, 'Are environmentalists telling the truth?' and here's the data that shows how all this fits together."
SEACC and other environmental groups complain enough jobs aren't created to justify logging on the Tongass.
The SEACC report zeroed in on the money lost in timber sales, pointing out that while the Forest Service spends more than $100 in taxpayer money to prepare, administer and support every thousand board feet of Tongass timber it sells, it sees about $36 in return.
Tongass Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole said the numbers are accurate, but that the Forest Service isn't trying to make money.
"If we were, we could do that. The objective in this is to manage public lands in multiple-use fashions as opposed to single-use," Cole.
Cole also said that those who judge the economics of a timber sale solely by dollars in hand miss the larger picture, pointing out that the network of roads connecting communities on Prince of Wales Island are largely Forest Service roads built to support timber sales.
"There's absolutely no way to tie a dollar amount to it," he said.
According to the report, in 2001 the Forest Service spent $37.4 million on timber sales and road building, supporting 782 jobs. In the same year, the agency spent $15.5 million on recreation and tourism, supporting 4,278 jobs, and $5.8 million on fishing and seafood, supporting 3,080 jobs.
The report also says that timber corporations export about 20 percent of all the trees cut on the Tongass raw and unprocessed, meaning that the jobs are going to workers in Asia and the Pacific Northwest, not to Alaska workers.
Landau said the numbers and other statistics are proof the Forest Service is not responding to the region's needs. She said the numbers show that dollars put toward recreation and seafood are more efficient in supporting jobs.
"It's just really clear they're not really putting the resources into those industries that are growing and could be using more help," Landau said.
But Forest Service officials said the amount and purpose of the funding the agency receives is dictated by Congress.
"The money we're allowed to use in projects is a function of what Congress appropriates to us," said Deputy Forest Supervisor Olleke Rappe-Daniels. "It would be wonderful if we had more recreation dollars. What they appropriate to us is their understanding of the will of the American public."
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.