Reports prepared by the U.S. Forest Service say the agency lost nearly $2.2 million on timber sales in Utah last year.
But while Forest Service officials aren't surprised or concerned with the figures, Utah environmentalists point to the reports as just another reason the timber harvesting program in Utah ought to be reevaluated."There is not, and never has been, a directive that national forests are supposed to make a profit," said Wallace Shiverdecker, public affairs officer for the Intermountain Region of the Forest Service.
Shiverdecker said such activities as logging, outdoor recreation and grazing regularly cost the Forest Service more to administer than they return to the federal treasury.
But he said these activities provide other important benefits - which aren't considered in government balance sheets - for rural communities that rely on timber mills, cattle ranching and tourism for their survival.
He said logging also provides fire-control benefits by reducing the amount of dead wood in a forest and it can improve the habitat for many animals.
However, Dick Carter, coordinator for the Utah Wilderness Association, said the high cost of federal timber sales is just one more reason for reassessing the Forest Service's logging program.
"Although economic concerns are justified when pointing out the problems of timber harvesting on Utah's national forests, the real tragedy from our perspective is that many Utah timber sales have significant negative environmental impacts," Carter said. "It is a loss of old growth species, undeveloped terrain, impacts on watersheds and loss of wildlife habitat from timber harvesting that concerns us."
The cost estimates were developed as part of a project known as the Timber Sale Program Information Reporting System mandated by Congress. Beginning in fiscal 1987, each national forest was required to produce a document that displays all timber-related costs and benefits.
All six of the national forests in Utah reported their cost of selling timber - such things as surveying an area, building roads and administering logging - exceeded the revenues obtained from sale of the trees.
The largest deficit was reported on the Ashley National Forest, which covers a large portion of the Uinta Mountains. In fiscal 1987, the forest spent more than $1.4 million to sell 24.7 billion board feet of lumber. The Forest Service was paid only $452,768 for this timber, resulting in a loss of $961,321.
As another example, the Dixie National Forest in southwestern Utah also had a large deficit. It spent almost $1.77 million on sales that produced 30.9 billion board feet of lumber. Federal revenue from these sales was $1.29 million, for a loss of $475,360.
The Wasatch-Cache National Forest had the smallest deficit. It spent $670,353 on sales that produced 23.9 billion board feet of timber. This timber sold for $581,070 for a loss of $89,283.
Shiverdecker said these figures will fluctuate each year with changes in the price of lumber and the areas being logged.