NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cut Losses: Get Rid Of The Forest Service

September 8, 2000

Critics accuse the U.S. Forest Service of wrong-headed and short-sighted policies which have resulted in wildfire disasters and squandered resources. Some analysts recommend abolishing the agency and dividing up its assets between state governments and private industry.

  • Despite warnings from other agencies, the Forest Service allowed brush and dead wood to build up, under pressure from environmental groups to return the forests to pristine conditions -- virtually assuring the eventual conflagrations.
  • As part of this policy, the Forest Service sharply reduced timber harvests -- from 12 billion board feet in 1989 to less than 3 billion per year today.
  • By the Forest Service's own estimates, 60 percent of its lands nationwide are now in an unhealthy and fire-prone condition.
  • The Forest Service's tree-thinning plan would cost $825 million a year without substantial benefit to taxpayers in the form of timber royalties and recreational fees -- explaining why in 1998 the agency took in only $788 million in revenue, while spending $2.3 billion to manage assets.

By its own calculations, the agency admits that the total economic value of the forests' human uses has fallen by more than 60 percent.

The U.S. Forest Service managed 192 million acres -- almost 10 percent of the U.S. The agency's critics say that no private owner could or would stand for the kind of mismanagement that's been going on.

Source: Robert H. Nelson, (University of Maryland and the Competitive Enterprise Institute), "Abolish the Forest Service," Forbes, September 18, 2000.

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