Tongass Timber Reform Act:

Implementation of the Act's Contract Modification Requirements

RCED-95-2: Published: Jan 31, 1995. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's implementation of certain unilateral modifications to long-term contracts in Alaska and other requirements of the Tongass Timber Reform Act, focusing on whether: (1) road credits are used consistently between long-term contracts and short-term contracts; (2) buffers of standing timber have been left along designated streams as required; and (3) the Forest Service is requiring full documentation of environmental effects whenever changes are made to timber harvest area boundaries.

GAO found that: (1) the Forest Service believes it treats road credits consistently across all contracts, since unused road credits are cancelled at the end of all timber sales contracts; (2) the long-term contractors' ability to carry unused road credits forward for longer periods than short-term contractors gives them an unfair competitive advantage; (3) some streamside buffers did not meet the 100-foot minimum width during the first years immediately following the act's passage, but the Forest Service has since taken steps to enforce this requirement; (4) in 1994, the Forest Service issued guidance and initiated a new monitoring program to ensure the buffers' effectiveness; (5) the Forest Service often does not document the environmental effects of timber harvest boundary changes; (6) in some instances, the forest supervisor has inappropriately delegated his documenting authority to district rangers and waived documentation where he believed boundary changes were insignificant; and (7) the forest supervisor has since withdrawn the authority delegation and established a detailed process for assessing boundary changes.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As a result of litigation, Ketchikan Pulp Company's pulp mill was closed in March 1997 and the Forest Service renegotiated its long-term contract, which makes the recommendation a moot issue.

    Matter: In light of the Forest Service's position that it needs to take no action to comply with the Tongass Timber Reform Act's provision on road credits, Congress may wish to consider directing the Secretary of Agriculture to modify the Ketchikan Pulp contract so that ineffective road credits generated during a timber offering would be cancelled after the timber offering is completed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service sent a letter, dated March 13, 1995, to the Regional Forester of the Alaska Region reminding him of the Regional Office's responsibility to ensure proper documentation. The letter requested him to send letters to "the forest supervisors to remind them of their responsibilities to properly document the environmental significance of changes to harvest unit boundaries or the need for additional environmental analysis" made after EISs have been issued. The Regional Forester sent letters to the forest supervisors on March 21, 1995.

    Recommendation: To ensure full consideration and disclosure of the environmental impacts of boundary changes to harvest units, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Forest Service to require Alaska Regional Office officials to periodically check to ensure that forest supervisors are properly documenting the environmental significance of boundary changes to timber harvest units made after environmental impact statements have been issued in the Tongass National Forest.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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