NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Forest Service Caught Fudging The Numbers

March 1, 2002

At the same time as employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are coming under fire for manufacturing evidence that Canadian Lynxes and Grizzly Bears inhabited areas where they had not been previously thought to exist -- which would justify restrictions on land use in order to protect the two endangered species -- the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has been forced to admit that it falsified the number of annual visitors to the nation's national forests.

In recent years the USFS has argued that visitor numbers have risen dramatically, justifying the need for large increases in the forest service budget. Environmentalists, in turn, have argued that the increase in recreational forest users merits increasing the amount of forest service land. In addition, both environmentalists and forest service bureaucrats have cited the increased visitor numbers as evidence of the need to shift the management of national forests from multiple uses, including logging, to preservation for recreation. There is one minor problem with their arguments: the visitor numbers were false. For instance:

  • In 2001, the USFS reported that there were 920 million visitors to the nation's national forests.
  • Under close scrutiny by Congress and government watchdog groups, the USFS later had to admit that the number of actual visitors was, at most, 209 million.
  • The forest service claimed that this 700 million-visitor discrepancy was due to a simple mistaken transposition of numbers.

"More likely," noted Sean Paige of Insight magazine, "the USFS purposefully padded the figure to advance an agenda that under former Chief Mike Dombeck meant a sharp shift away from its traditional multiple-use mandate toward extreme preservation. That agenda could best be advanced if it appeared that Americans were flocking to national forests in unprecedented numbers."

Source: James M. Taylor, "Forest Service caught submitting false visitor numbers," Environment and Climate News, March 2002, Heartland Institute. L 60603


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