GAO Observations on Timber Harvesting and Forest Development Needs on Indian Reservations

T-RCED-90-71: Published: Apr 24, 1990. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 1990.

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GAO discussed the Bureau of Indian Affairs' (BIA) Forestry Program, focusing on the work being done at the 5 Indian reservations that together accounted for 38 percent of the program's timber harvest. GAO noted that: (1) the program's annual harvest volume averaged about 72 percent of the official BIA annual allowable cut, with individual harvests ranging from 51 percent to 88 percent; (2) greater tribal influence in defining individual reservation harvesting goals changed the program's emphasis from maximizing productivity to satisfying tribal preferences; (3) such factors as fire, poor markets, timber disease, staff ability, and harvest inefficiencies affected harvest productivity; (4) tribal influences regarding certain harvesting practices, the cutting of certain types of trees or trees in certain areas, and the hiring of non-tribal members also affected harvest productivity; (5) Congress appropriated about $81 million between fiscal years 1977 and 1989 to reduce a backlog of forest development work that BIA identified in 1977; and (6) BIA reported that about half of the reported backlog work had been completed by the end of fiscal year 1989. GAO believes that the 1977 BIA-identified backlog should no longer be used as the basis for providing forest development funding, since: (1) the backlog estimate was highly speculative and inadequately defined areas and treatments; (2) reservations differed significantly in measuring and reporting the accomplishment of backlog work; and (3) some of the required forest development work was never reported in the backlog.

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