Natural Resources and Environment:

Better Data Needed To Determine the Extent to Which Herbicides Should Be Used on Forest Lands

CED-81-46: Published: Apr 17, 1981. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 1981.

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Vegetation management programs and practices on forest lands managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were reviewed. The main areas of discussion were the use of herbicides, the controversy over herbicides, the controversy's effect on forest land managers, and the need for both agencies to take actions that would provide better information for making vegetation management decisions.

The use of herbicides for managing unwanted vegetation on forest lands has become a public controversy. In some cases, their use has been restricted. Growing opposition stemming from unanswered questions about herbicides' health and environmental effects could result in further restrictions. Although it has been shown that nonherbicide methods can be used to control unwanted vegetation in national forests, the extent to which these methods can replace herbicides is not known. Serious information gaps exist relating to the costs of vegetation management methods and their relative effectiveness. Most forests GAO visited had some success with alternatives to herbicides. However, site-specific data were not available to identify why methods had succeeded in one area but not in another.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should instruct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Director of BLM, respectively, to gather more comprehensive and complete cost data on their site preparation and release projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should instruct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Director of BLM, respectively, to gather more comprehensive and complete cost data on their site preparation and release projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should instruct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Director of BLM, respectively, to ensure that: (1) those forests and districts relying heavily on herbicides increase the use of nonherbicide methods; and (2) adequate site-specific pretreatment and posttreatment information is gathered and evaluated. The Secretaries should also instruct the agency heads to develop more objective criteria for determining the need for release.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In October 1984, GAO was advised by the Service and BLM that they are currently precluded from using herbicides due to a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court. The Service and BLM appealed the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court; however, the Court opted not to hear the case.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior should instruct the Chief of the Forest Service and the Director of BLM, respectively, to ensure that: (1) those forests and districts relying heavily on herbicides increase the use of nonherbicide methods; and (2) adequate site-specific pretreatment and posttreatment information is gathered and evaluated. The Secretaries should also instruct the agency heads to develop more objective criteria for determining the need for release.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In October 1984, GAO was advised by the Service and BLM that they are currently precluded from using herbicides due to a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court. The Service and BLM appealed this matter to the U.S. Supreme Court; however, the Court opted not to hear the case.

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