Weaknesses Found in Timber Sale Practices on the Plumas National Forest

CED-82-88: Published: Jun 23, 1982. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 1982.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed certain aspects of Forest Service timber operations in northern California. The request was made due to complaints made by small loggers and mill operators alleging mismanagement of timber sales at the Plumas National Forest.

GAO found that some problems existed regarding: (1) preparation and administration of timber sales, (2) accountability over Government logs stored at purchasers' mills, and (3) treatment of small companies purchasing Forest Service timber. Experienced timber staff were not detailed to Plumas to handle an increased timber sale workload caused by an epidemic insect infestation and droughts in 1976 and 1977. In the absence of effective sales supervision and clear instructions on marking trees for harvest, some questionable tree-marking (designation) and cutting occurred. There was also some question as to whether the proper logging systems were used on some sales as specified in the sales contracts. Some purchasers of Plumas timber have special arrangements whereby the Forest Service retains ownership and incurs the financial risks and losses for logs it stores at the purchaser's mill until it is measured for final payment. GAO believes that the Forest Service should use alternative measuring methods that will provide uniform treatment to all purchasers of Forest Service timber. Finally, purchasers of small timber sales at Plumas were required to provide higher percentages of their contract prices as performance deposits than were purchasers of large sales. GAO concluded that all performance deposit requirements need to be adjusted to ensure consistent and equitable treatment of all purchasers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to improve its timber sale preparation and administration program in its Pacific Southwest Region by developing formal contingency plans to deal with future insect-infestation epidemics. The plans should provide for timely detailing of experienced timber staff to national forests facing insect epidemic conditions. Also, formal written emergency procedures should be developed for preparing and administering insect salvage timber sales.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to improve its timber sale preparation and administration by developing specific procedures for administering timber sales with multiple logging systems. These procedures should provide for closer monitoring of the timber volume harvested under various logging systems to facilitate price adjustments where appropriate. Unless special controls are provided, tractor logging should not generally be allowed until helicopter logging requirements on a sale are satisfied.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to improve its timber sale preparation and administration program in its Pacific Southwest Region by reemphasizing the need to closely monitor timber harvest operations to ensure that only designated trees are harvested on salvage sales and violations can be identified more timely.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration should take the following actions to strengthen the Forest Service's small business timber sale programs: (1) explore the feasibility, including whether legislation is necessary, of establishing goals for timber sales to the smaller logging and mill operations within the present 500-employee set-aside criterion; and (2) strengthen the special salvage timber sale program regulations to prevent small timber companies from acting as brokers or agents for large companies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration should take the following actions to strengthen the Forest Service's small business timber sale programs: (1) explore the feasibility, including whether legislation is necessary, of establishing goals for timber sales to the smaller logging and mill operations within the present 500-employee set-aside criterion; and (2) strengthen the special salvage timber sale program regulations to prevent small timber companies from acting as brokers or agents for large companies.

    Agency Affected: Small Business Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to revise its timber sale performance deposit/bond procedures on Plumas to provide equitable and consistent treatment to all sized purchasers of Federal timber, giving consideration to the financial capability of the buyer and the potential loss to the Government from nonperformance. The Forest Service should ensure through its internal reviews that equitable and consistent treatment in this area and in regard to incorporating incremental stumpage deposits in small timber sale provisions is provided on all forests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to revise its timber sale performance deposit/bond procedures on Plumas to provide equitable and consistent treatment to all sized purchasers of Federal timber, giving consideration to the financial capability of the buyer and the potential loss to the Government from nonperformance. The Forest Service should ensure through its internal reviews that equitable and consistent treatment in this area and in regard to incorporating incremental stumpage deposits in small timber sale provisions is provided on all forests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture: Forest Service

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Agriculture does not agree with this recommendation applied to existing sites. It plans to revise the Forest Service Manual by June 1983 to prohibit approval of new mill-deck scaling sites and to stress log accountability and scaling quality control. Notwithstanding these actions, GAO continues to believe the recommendation has merit and should remain open.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to discontinue mill-deck-deferred-scaling arrangements on future Forest Service timber sales.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Agriculture does not agree with this recommendation applied to existing sites. It plans to revise the Forest Service Manual by June 1983 to prohibit approval of new mill-deck scaling sites and to stress log accountability and scaling quality control. Notwithstanding these actions, GAO continues to believe the recommendation has merit and should remain open.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should require the Forest Service to discontinue mill-deck-deferred-scaling arrangements on future Forest Service timber sales.

    Agency Affected: Small Business Administration

 

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