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Report to Congressional Requesters:

United States General Accounting Office:

GAO:

June 2003:

BLM PUBLIC DOMAIN LANDS:

Volume of Timber Offered for Sale Has Declined Substantially Since 
Fiscal Year 1990:

GAO-03-615:

GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-03-615, a report to Congressional Requesters 

Why GAO Did This Study:

For several decades, debate over how to balance timber sales with 
resource protection and recreational use on federally managed lands 
has been at the heart of controversy surrounding federal land 
management. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management 
(BLM) is one of the federal agencies that manages some of the nation’s 
forests—about 53 million acres—under its public domain forestry 
management program and offers timber for sale from these lands.

With regard to BLM’s offerings of timber for sale, congressional 
requesters asked GAO to determine (1) the statutory framework for BLM 
timber sales, (2) the trend in BLM timber volume offered for sale, and 
(3) factors contributing to any observed trends.

GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and BLM policy governing BLM timber 
sales. GAO obtained and reviewed data on the volumes and composition 
of BLM timber sale offerings from fiscal years 1990 through 2002 and 
met with agency officials and others to identify factors affecting 
timber sale offering trends and their importance.

What GAO Found:

A variety of land management and other environmental laws provide the 
statutory framework for timber sales on BLM public domain land. In 
particular, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act permits timber 
sales as one of several uses for BLM public lands. Timber sales also 
must comply with other environmental laws, such as the National 
Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean 
Water Act.

From 1990 to 2002, the volume of timber offered for sale by BLM 
declined about 74 percent. Declines were experienced for each of the 
timber’s components—sawtimber (trees or logs suitable for conversion 
into lumber) and other wood products (small logs used to make 
firewood, posts, and poles). Consequently, in 2002, the proportion of 
sawtimber in the total volume offered for sale was less than it was in 
1990.

The principal factor contributing to the decline in timber volume was 
the governmentwide shift in forestry program emphasis beginning in the 
late 1980s from timber production to enhancing forest ecosystem 
health. This shift was based on the need to provide more protection 
for nontimber resources and to place a greater emphasis on the removal 
of smaller trees to reduce the risks of insects, fire, and disease. As 
a result, according to BLM officials, timber became a by-product 
rather than the focus of BLM’s management of its public domain 
forests.

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-615.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click 
on the link above. For more information, contact Barry T. Hill at 
(202) 512-3841 or hillbt@gao.gov.

[End of section]

Contents:

Letter:

Results in Brief:

Background:

Federal Land Policy and Management Act and Other Environmental Laws 
Provide the Statutory Framework for BLM Timber Sales:

The Volume and Composition of BLM Timber Sale Offerings from Public 
Domain Lands Have Changed Significantly Since 1990:

Shift in Program Emphasis Was the Primary Cause of the Decline in 
Timber Offered for Sale:

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation:

Scope and Methodology:

Appendix I: Public Domain Forest and Woodland Acres by BLM State 
Office:

Appendix II: Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from BLM Public Domain 
Forests and Woodlands, Fiscal Years 1990 through 2002:

Appendix III: Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from Public Domain 
Lands by BLM State Office, Fiscal Years 1990 and 2002:

Appendix IV: Comments from the Department of the Interior:

Appendix V: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments:

Tables:

Table 1: Public Domain Forest and Woodland Acres by BLM State Office:

Table 2: Annual Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from BLM Public 
Domain Forests and Woodlands, Fiscal Years 1990 through 2002:

Table 3: Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from Public Domain Lands by 
BLM State Office, Fiscal Years 1990 and 2002:

Figures:

Figure 1: BLM Public Domain Timber Offered for Sale by Type, Fiscal 
Years 1990 through 2002:

Figure 2: Proportion of BLM Public Domain Timber Offerings by Type, 
Fiscal Years 1990 and 2002:

Abbreviations:

BLM: Bureau of Land Management:

FLPMA: Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976:

United States General Accounting Office:

Washington, DC 20548:

June 19, 2003:

Congressional Requesters:

Currently, federally managed forests provide an estimated 7 percent of 
the nation's domestically produced timber and wood products while 
serving several other functions, such as providing habitat for over a 
third of all threatened and endangered species, serving as the nation's 
single largest source of water, and providing increasingly popular 
recreational destinations. For several decades, debate over how to 
balance timber sales with resource protection and recreational use on 
federally managed lands has been at the heart of controversy 
surrounding federal forest land management. While the Forest Service 
manages most federal forest lands, the Department of the Interior's 
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also manages some of these federal 
forests--encompassing about 53 million acres--located primarily in 12 
western states, under its public domain forestry management program. 
BLM refers to lands under this program as public domain lands.

In relation to BLM's offerings of timber for sale under its public 
domain forestry management program, you asked us to determine (1) the 
statutory framework for BLM timber sales, (2) the trend in BLM timber 
volume offered for sale, and (3) factors contributing to any observed 
trends. To meet these objectives, we reviewed laws, regulations, and 
policy documents governing BLM's timber sales; obtained and reviewed 
information on the volumes and composition of timber offered for sale 
from BLM's annual statistical report and its timber sale information 
system; and met with BLM headquarters officials and contacted several 
BLM state and field offices to identify the factors and their 
importance.

Results in Brief:

BLM's timber sales under its public domain forestry management program 
are governed by a statutory framework that consists of a land 
management statute and other environmental laws. The Federal Land 
Policy and Management Act of 1976--the principal law under which BLM 
manages its public domain forestry management program--requires BLM to 
manage its public lands in accordance with the principles of multiple 
use and sustained yield, that is, at levels that can be achieved and 
maintained in perpetuity. The act gives BLM broad management discretion 
over how it emphasizes one use in relation to another. BLM's timber 
sales on public domain lands must also comply with the requirements of 
other environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy 
Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act.

The total volume of timber offered for sale from BLM's public domain 
lands has declined from 101 million board feet of timber in fiscal year 
1990 to 26 million board feet in 2002.[Footnote 1] BLM's offerings 
consist of two components--sawtimber (trees or logs suitable for 
conversion into lumber) and other wood products (small logs used to 
make firewood, posts, and poles). The volume of each component also 
declined in the same time period. Sawtimber declined from 80 million 
board feet to 14 million board feet and other wood products declined 
from 21 million board feet to 11 million board feet. Consequently, in 
2002 the proportion of sawtimber in the total volume offered for sale 
was less than it was in 1990.

A shift in program emphasis from timber production to enhancing forest 
ecosystem health that took place in the late 1980s was the principal 
factor contributing to the decline in BLM's timber volume offered for 
sale. Federal officials made the shift in order to (1) provide more 
protection for nontimber resources such as recreation, water quality, 
and species habitat, which timber harvesting can adversely affect and 
(2) focus forest management on the removal of smaller trees and brush 
to reduce the risks of insects, disease, and wildfire. According to BLM 
officials, responding to these needs has resulted in timber production 
becoming a by-product, rather than a focus, of BLM's management of its 
lands.

In responding to a draft of this report, the department pointed out 
that the report achieved its three objectives. The department also said 
that BLM has begun to act on some of the findings in the draft report, 
including recruiting new foresters, in part to support the National 
Fire Plan. Furthermore, the department said that the President's fiscal 
year 2004 budget proposes a $1 million increase in funding for the 
public domain forests and woodlands management program. The increased 
funding, according to the department, will be used to improve 
utilization of small-diameter wood materials, improve forest health, 
and provide entrepreneurial opportunities in the wood product industry.

Background:

BLM, within the Department of the Interior, and the Forest Service, 
within the Department of Agriculture, are the two primary federal 
agencies involved with timber sales. In terms of acreage, the Forest 
Service manages over 192 million acres of national forest system land. 
In contrast, BLM manages about 261 million acres of public lands, of 
which about 55 million acres are forests and woodlands. BLM administers 
two forestry programs: one on public domain lands and one in western 
Oregon.[Footnote 2] BLM's public domain forestry management program 
covers 53 million acres--about 9 million acres of forests and about 
44 million acres of woodlands.[Footnote 3] Appendix I provides a 
detailed listing of forest and woodland acreage administered under 
BLM's public domain forestry management program.

BLM's forests and woodlands on public domain lands are primarily in 
12 western states. Much of these lands tend to be in small, isolated 
parcels that are not as productive as BLM's western Oregon lands or the 
larger forests managed by the Forest Service. BLM manages its public 
domain lands through a multilevel organization--national office, 12 
state offices, and about 130 field offices--that carries out a variety 
of agency programs and activities including recreation and fish and 
wildlife protection, in addition to timber.

BLM's public domain forestry management program received a small 
portion of the agency's $1.8 billion annual budget for fiscal year 
2002. The Congress appropriated about $6.2 million for the public 
domain forestry management program in fiscal year 2002.[Footnote 4]

Timber offered for sale on public domain lands includes sawtimber and 
other wood products. Sales of sawtimber and some other wood products 
are initiated by soliciting bids from prospective buyers. In addition, 
BLM offers other wood products to the public through a permit process.

Federal Land Policy and Management Act and Other Environmental Laws 
Provide the Statutory Framework for BLM Timber Sales:

BLM manages its public domain forestry management program within a 
statutory framework consisting of a land management statute and various 
other environmental laws. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 
1976 (FLPMA)--the principal law under which BLM manages its public 
domain forestry management program--requires BLM to manage its public 
lands under the principles of multiple use and sustained 
yield.[Footnote 5] FLPMA gives BLM broad management discretion over how 
it emphasizes one use, such as offering timber for sale, in relation to 
another, such as providing recreation. Among other things, multiple use 
management aims at a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses 
that take into account the long-term needs of future generations for 
renewable resources (for example, timber) and nonrenewable resources 
(for example, minerals). FLPMA states that BLM should consider fish and 
wildlife; recreation; minerals; range; ecological preservation; 
timber; watershed; natural scenic, scientific, and historical values; 
and other resources, as it balances public land uses. Under the 
principle of sustained yield, BLM seeks to achieve and maintain high 
output levels of all renewable resources in perpetuity. Under FLPMA, 
BLM has broad discretion in managing its timber sales. During its land 
use planning process, BLM identifies areas that are available and have 
the capacity for planned, sustained-yield harvest of timber or other 
forest products.

BLM timber sales on public domain lands must also comply with the 
requirements of other environmental laws, including the National 
Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean 
Water Act. For major federal actions that may significantly affect the 
quality of the human environment, the National Environmental Policy Act 
requires all federal agencies, including BLM, to analyze the potential 
environmental effects of a proposed project, such as a timber sale. 
Regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act require 
agencies to include a discussion of how to mitigate adverse impacts and 
a discussion of those impacts that cannot be avoided under the federal 
action. Under the Endangered Species Act, BLM must ensure that its 
actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of species 
listed as threatened or endangered or to destroy or adversely modify 
habitat critical to their survival. Similarly, the requirement to meet 
standards for water quality under the Clean Water Act may limit the 
timing, location, and volume of timber sales.

The Volume and Composition of BLM Timber Sale Offerings from Public 
Domain Lands Have Changed Significantly Since 1990:

BLM's annual volume of timber offered for sale from public domain lands 
declined 74 percent from 101 million board feet of timber in fiscal 
year 1990 to 26 million board feet in 2002. Over the same period, the 
volume of the two components of BLM offerings--sawtimber and other wood 
products--also declined: sawtimber from 80 million to 14 million board 
feet (81 percent) and other wood products from 21 million to 11 million 
board feet (46 percent). See figure 1.

Figure 1: BLM Public Domain Timber Offered for Sale by Type, Fiscal 
Years 1990 through 2002:

[See PDF for image]

Note: BLM could not provide volume data for other wood products for 
fiscal years 1994 through 1996.

[End of figure]

Appendix II includes more detailed information on the volume of BLM 
public domain timber offered for sale from fiscal year 1990 through 
2002.

Mirroring the overall national decline, each BLM state office 
experienced declines in the volume of timber offered for sale from 
fiscal year 1990 through 2002. Eastern Oregon experienced the sharpest 
decline--from 56 million to 8 million board feet--representing nearly 
two-thirds of the overall decline. A BLM official explained that 
eastern Oregon offered an abnormally high volume of timber for sale in 
fiscal years 1990 and 1991, primarily due to a large salvage logging 
effort following a mountain pine beetle epidemic. For perspective, from 
fiscal years 1985 through 1989, eastern Oregon offered an average of 
22 million board feet of timber per year. Appendix III shows the volume 
of timber that each BLM state office offered for sale in 1990 and in 
2002 and the amount of decline.

As a consequence of the decline in the volume of timber offered for 
sale during fiscal years 1990 through 2002, the proportion of the 
volume's two components also changed. As shown in figure 2, sawtimber 
represented over three-quarters of the total volume in fiscal year 
1990, but had decreased to slightly more than one-half of the total 
volume by fiscal year 2002. In contrast, the proportion of other wood 
products increased from about one-fifth of the total volume in 1990 to 
about one-half of the total volume in fiscal year 2002.

Figure 2: Proportion of BLM Public Domain Timber Offerings by Type, 
Fiscal Years 1990 and 2002:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Shift in Program Emphasis Was the Primary Cause of the Decline in 
Timber Offered for Sale:

Beginning in the late 1980s, the program emphasis on BLM public domain 
lands, like that on most other federal forests, increasingly shifted 
from timber production to emphasizing forest ecosystem health.[Footnote 
6] This shift in emphasis, required by changing forest conditions and 
needs, helped cause a reduction in the volume of timber removed from 
all federal lands, including BLM public domain lands. As a result of 
this decline in supply volume, some sawmills that formerly processed 
BLM timber have closed, making it more difficult for BLM to market 
timber in some areas. In addition, the emphasis on forest ecosystem 
health has increased some of the costs associated with timber sales 
preparation, as staff must now prepare more extensive analysis of the 
effects of the timber harvest on other resources. Faced with generally 
declining funding levels and fewer foresters to prepare timber sales, 
and subsequently fewer sales, BLM's volume of timber offered for sale 
from its public domain lands declined.

Shift in Program Emphasis to Forest Ecosystem Health Has Contributed 
to Reduced Timber Sale Offerings:

The 74 percent decline in the volume of timber sale offerings from BLM 
public domain lands since 1990, according to BLM officials, was 
primarily due to the shift in program emphasis to forest ecosystem 
health. We previously reported that this shift in emphasis caused large 
declines in timber production from all federal forests.[Footnote 7] 
BLM's decline mirrored a similar decline in offerings from the 155 
national forests. For example, between 1990 and 1997 the volume of 
timber offered for sale from the national forests managed by the Forest 
Service declined about 65 percent, from 11 billion to 4 billion board 
feet.

Since the late 1980s, growing concerns over declining ecological 
conditions on federal lands--such as poor animal habitat and water 
quality--resulted in federal agencies adopting a new, more 
scientifically based management approach, referred to then as ecosystem 
management. BLM officially adopted this approach to implementing its 
land management responsibilities in 1994 to sustain resource usage in 
an ecosystem--including timber production--while maintaining, and 
restoring where damaged, the natural functioning of interdependent 
communities of plants and animals and their physical environment (soil, 
water, air).[Footnote 8] In revising forest management policy for 
public domain lands, BLM increased its emphasis on managing for forest 
ecosystem conditions, in addition to providing for sustained yield of 
its forests and woodlands. This new policy recognized the role that 
insects, disease, fire, and other disturbance mechanisms, as well as 
noncommercial plant species, play in ecosystems.

The reduction in the volume of timber offered for sale also resulted 
from environmental statutes and their judicial interpretations arising 
from lawsuits brought by environmental and recreational organizations. 
In order to increase protection of wildlife habitat, recreation, and 
stream quality, the volume of timber offered for sale was reduced for 
the following reasons: (1) some forest areas where timber sales had 
been planned could not be used for this purpose; (2) in some areas 
where trees could be harvested, fewer trees could be removed because of 
limitations on clear-cutting; and (3) in some cases, BLM would not 
offer timber for sale where the removal costs were too expensive for 
buyers.

BLM officials cited several instances where an increased emphasis on 
providing greater protection to forest ecosystem resources from the 
adverse effects of timber harvesting had resulted in reductions of 
timber offerings on BLM public domain lands since 1990. For example, an 
official in the BLM Idaho state office noted that harvesting timber by 
clear-cutting is no longer performed in many locations. Likewise, 
concerns about potential harm to the habitat of threatened or 
endangered species, such as lynx and bull trout, led to a reduced 
volume of timber offered for sale. In addition, some current harvesting 
methods cost more and result in less volume, but potentially cause less 
harm to the species and its habitat. BLM officials told us that in 
eastern Oregon they offered sales in areas where there were fewer 
concerns about the harm to habitat in order to reduce the probability 
of public challenge. Additionally, BLM officials in Idaho and Oregon 
told us that the need to sometimes use helicopters to remove harvested 
trees, in order to protect other resources from effects that would 
result, for example, from constructing roads to access and remove 
timber, drove up costs and further reduced the amount of timber they 
could offer for sale.

In the 1990s, growing concerns about changes in forest structure and 
composition, and the long-term threats that these changes posed to 
forest ecosystem health, further contributed to the declines in the 
volume of timber offered for sale from federal forests, including from 
BLM public domain lands. The principal change in forest structure that 
was of concern was the increasing density of tree stands in forests, 
especially of smaller trees and brush. Among the changes in forest 
composition of most concern was a reduction in the diversity of tree 
species. Both types of change stemmed largely from decades of 
previously accepted forest management practices, such as the exclusion 
of naturally occurring periodic fires that removed smaller trees and 
undergrowth; replacement, after clear-cutting, of mixed native species 
with a single species; and a failure to carry out planned thinning of 
forests.

Overly dense, less diverse forests can lead to increasingly widespread 
insect and disease infestations and greatly increase the risk of 
catastrophic wildfires. Such wildfires can severely damage tree stands, 
wildlife habitat, water quality, and soils, and threaten human health, 
lives, property, and infrastructure in nearby communities. According to 
BLM, the need to reduce forest density and restore composition 
diversity in forest ecosystems has necessitated a refocusing of federal 
forest management activities, including timber sale offerings, on the 
removal of smaller trees and materials that generate less volume than 
the larger trees more commonly offered for sale in prior years.

BLM program management officials stated that the need to restore the 
structure and composition of forests is currently the primary reason 
that the timber removed from public domain lands will have to continue 
to be more heavily weighted towards nonsawtimber and small-diameter 
trees. In many cases, the materials that need to be removed have little 
or no commercial value, and thus do not affect the overall volume of 
timber offered for sale. For example, a BLM official in a Colorado 
field office told us that any increase in funding would first 
concentrate on a backlog of areas that were overstocked following 
harvests several years ago, but were never thinned of small trees that 
had no commercial value.

BLM officials could not quantify the effect of the shift to forest 
ecosystem health on the overall decline in the volume of timber sale 
offerings since 1990. They noted, however, that the shift had resulted 
in timber becoming largely a by-product, rather than a focus, of the 
public domain forestry management program.

Shift in Program Emphasis Has Led to Mill Closures, BLM Staffing 
Changes, and Insufficient Inventory Data During a Period of Declining 
Budgets:

The decline in the volume of timber sale offerings from federal forests 
as a result of the shift in emphasis to forest ecosystem health has 
resulted in a reduced supply of materials for sawmills in many areas. 
According to two reports[Footnote 9] principally authored by The 
University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research and 
the Forest Service, the volume of timber from national forests received 
by mills in Idaho and Montana declined in the 1990s. For example, in 
Idaho, the volume declined from about 729 million board feet in 1990 to 
301 million board feet in 1995, representing a decline of 59 percent. 
In Montana, the volume declined from about 318 million board feet in 
1993 to 215 million board feet in 1998, representing a decline of 
32 percent. According to these reports, the reduced mill capacity in 
these states was due primarily to the decline in timber availability 
from national forests. Furthermore, these reports indicated that the 
decline in timber volume from the national forests was a contributing 
factor to the closure of at least 30 sawmills in these two states. 
Other factors mentioned by these reports as contributing to 
sawmill closures included fluctuations in lumber prices, changes in the 
volume of exports and imports of lumber, and changes in the structure 
of the industry.

According to BLM officials, the primary reason for sawmill closures was 
the decline in the supply of timber from the larger, more productive 
Forest Service lands near BLM lands. However, they noted that 
purchasers of timber from BLM public domain lands also used these 
mills. For example, officials in some field offices in Colorado and 
Idaho said several nearby mills had closed, leading purchasers to 
transport timber to more distant mills for processing. As a result, the 
officials noted that the purchasers of timber from these offices have 
experienced higher transportation costs, thereby reducing the 
attractiveness of purchasing timber from BLM public domain lands. The 
officials told us that because of the relatively small volume of timber 
offered for sale from BLM public domain lands, a return to previous BLM 
sale offering levels would not result in sufficient supply for the 
mills to reopen.

The shift in emphasis has also contributed to a need for more extensive 
analysis and the hiring of more resource protection specialists during 
the time that BLM's funding for its public domain forestry management 
program was generally declining. Consequently, less volume of timber 
was offered because it takes longer and costs more to prepare a given 
volume of timber for sale. According to officials, over the past 
decade, BLM has hired more resource protection specialists, such as 
wildlife biologists, botanists, and hydrologists, in order to better 
analyze the effects of potential timber sales on other resources, such 
as wildlife habitat. At the same time, many foresters, who are the 
primary staff involved in identifying and preparing timber sales, have 
departed the agency either through retirement or other means in recent 
years and have not been replaced. For example, the number of BLM 
foresters decreased from 72 to 53 between fiscal year 1991 and fiscal 
year 2002. We were told that at some field units there are no foresters 
remaining that have the skills needed to prepare timber sales. 
Furthermore, using constant 2002 dollars, BLM's appropriations for the 
public domain forestry management program declined from $8.5 million in 
fiscal year 1990 to $6.2 million in 2002. Thus, the higher preparation 
costs and smaller budgets have left BLM less able to prepare timber 
sales. According to BLM, it has begun recruiting new foresters and has 
requested an increase of $1 million in funding in fiscal year 2004 for 
the public domain forestry management program.

In addition, BLM officials told us that for the past few years the 
agency has not had the funding to develop better inventory information 
about forests and woodlands in order to adequately assess the effects 
of timber sales on the forest ecosystem. For example, they do not have 
current information on the condition of forests and woodlands, such as 
tree density, species composition, and the extent of forests and 
woodlands affected by insects and disease--information needed to 
identify potential timber sale offerings. According to the officials, 
some timber sales cannot be prepared because BLM does not have credible 
inventory data needed to justify trade-offs between timber harvesting 
and other concerns, such as impacts on animal species habitat. Agency 
officials said that the lack of knowledge of its inventory has been a 
long-standing problem.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation:

We provided a draft of this report to the Department of the Interior 
for review and comment. The department pointed out that the report 
achieved its three objectives and that we had incorporated information 
based on informal discussions with staff. The department said that BLM 
has begun to act on some of the findings in the draft report, including 
recruiting new foresters, in part to support the National Fire Plan. 
According to the department, these foresters will help ensure that 
forest health considerations, such as species composition, stand 
structure, and insect or disease occurrence, are fully considered, in 
addition to hazardous fuel reduction. BLM state directors have 
submitted detailed action plans to meet state-specific needs for 
renewed emphasis on forests and woodlands management. Furthermore, the 
department said that the President's fiscal year 2004 budget proposes a 
$1 million increase in funding for the public domain forests and 
woodlands management program. The increased funding, according to the 
department, will be used to improve utilization of small-diameter wood 
materials, improve forest health, and provide entrepreneurial 
opportunities in the wood product industry. We included information in 
the report regarding BLM's recruiting efforts and its request for 
additional funding.

The department also made technical clarifications, which we 
incorporated as appropriate. The department's comments are reprinted in 
appendix IV.

Scope and Methodology:

To determine the legal framework for BLM timber sales on public domain 
lands, we reviewed laws and regulations governing BLM's timber sales 
activities. We also reviewed policy documents issued by headquarters 
and, if available, supplemental guidance issued by state and field 
locations as it relates to timber sales activities.

To determine the trend in the volume of timber that BLM offered for 
sale from public domain lands, we obtained BLM information on the 
volumes and composition--sawtimber, firewood, posts, poles, and other 
wood products--of timber offered for sale by state office for fiscal 
years 1990 through 2002. We reviewed information contained in BLM's 
Timber Sale Information System and its annual publication, Public Land 
Statistics.

To determine what factors contributed to the trend in the volume of 
timber offered for sale from public domain lands from 1990 to 2002, we 
met with BLM headquarters officials and visited or contacted officials 
at 9 of the 12 BLM state offices and six field offices--two each in the 
states of Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. We discussed with these 
officials how their respective offices established timber sale goals, 
allocated forestry program funding, and monitored accomplishment of 
planned timber sales. We also discussed with these officials BLM's 
management emphasis on improving forest health, and the trends in (1) 
market conditions for timber and other wood products and (2) BLM 
funding and staffing. In addition, we reviewed BLM's budget 
justifications, strategic and annual plans and reports, land use plans, 
and other materials related to BLM's timber sales activities. To gain 
further perspective on the market conditions of the timber industry, we 
interviewed officials and reviewed timber industry research 
publications from The University of Montana. Finally, to gain a more 
detailed understanding of timber sales activities on public domain 
lands, we met with officials in three BLM state offices--Colorado, 
Idaho, and Montana--and visited several BLM timber sale projects that 
were ongoing or had been completed recently.

We conducted our review from May 2002 through May 2003 in accordance 
with generally accepted government auditing standards.

We will send copies of this report to the Secretary of the Interior; 
the Director of the Bureau of Land Management; the Director, Office of 
Management and Budget; and other interested parties. We will also make 
copies available to others upon request. In addition, the report will 
be available at no charge on the GAO Web site at http://www.gao.gov. If 
you or your staff have any questions, please call me at (202) 512-3841. 
Key contributors to this report are listed in appendix V.

Barry T. Hill 
Director, 
Natural Resources and Environment:

List of Requesters:

The Honorable Larry Craig:

Chairman Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests Committee on Energy 
and Natural Resources United States Senate:

The Honorable Scott McInnis Chairman Subcommittee on Forests and Forest 
Health Committee on Resources House of Representatives:

The Honorable George Radanovich Chairman Subcommittee on National 
Parks, Recreation and Public Lands Committee on Resources House of 
Representatives:

The Honorable Michael Crapo United States Senate:

The Honorable Gordon Smith United States Senate:

[End of section]

Appendix I: Public Domain Forest and Woodland Acres by BLM State Office:

Table 1 shows the number of acres of forests and woodlands and their 
total for each BLM state office.

Table 1: Public Domain Forest and Woodland Acres by BLM State Office:

Acres in thousands.

Alaska[A]; Forests: 5,297; Woodlands: 22,982; Total: 28,279.

Arizona; Forests: 20; Woodlands: 1,054; Total: 1,074.

California; Forests: 204; Woodlands: 2,004; Total: 2,208.

Colorado; Forests: 1,069; Woodlands: 3,041; Total: 4,110.

Eastern States; Forests: 0; Woodlands: 30; Total: 30.

Idaho; Forests: 512; Woodlands: 380; Total: 892.

Montana; Forests: 783; Woodlands: 27; Total: 810.

Nevada; Forests: 5; Woodlands: 6,269; Total: 6,274.

New Mexico; Forests: 44; Woodlands: 941; Total: 985.

Oregon (excludes western Oregon); Forests: 194; Woodlands: 847; Total: 
1,041.

Utah; Forests: 338; Woodlands: 5,735; Total: 6,073.

Wyoming; Forests: 474; Woodlands: 530; Total: 1,004.

Total; Forests: 8,940; Woodlands: 43,840; Total: 52,780.

Source: BLM.

[A] According to BLM, much of the land in Alaska is inaccessible or too 
far from established markets to make timber harvesting feasible.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix II: Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from BLM Public Domain 
Forests and Woodlands, Fiscal Years 1990 through 2002:

Table 2 identifies the volume, in board feet, of sawtimber, cords, 
posts, poles, and other wood products offered for sale from public 
domain lands from fiscal years 1990 through 2002.

Table 2: Annual Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from BLM Public 
Domain Forests and Woodlands, Fiscal Years 1990 through 2002:

Board feet in thousands:

Fiscal Year: 1990[C]; Sawtimber: 80,116; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 19,227; Other wood products: Posts: 
1,733; Other wood products: Poles: 254; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
14; Other wood products: Subtotal: 21,228; Total timber volume 
offered: 101,344.

Fiscal Year: 1991; Sawtimber: 86,395; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 18,941; Other wood products: Posts: 
465; Other wood products: Poles: 615; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
7; Other wood products: Subtotal: 20,028; Total timber volume 
offered: 106,423.

Fiscal Year: 1992; Sawtimber: 59,161; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 16,691; Other wood products: Posts: 
457; Other wood products: Poles: 1,756; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
234; Other wood products: Subtotal: 19,138; Total timber volume 
offered: 78,299.

Fiscal Year: 1993; Sawtimber: 28,150; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 18,351; Other wood products: Posts: 
571; Other wood products: Poles: 566; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
14; Other wood products: Subtotal: 19,502; Total timber volume 
offered: 47,652.

Fiscal Year: 1994[D]; Sawtimber: 13,672; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: d; Other wood products: Posts: d; 
Other wood products: Poles: d; Other wood products: Other[B]: [D]; 
Other wood products: Subtotal: [D]; 
Total timber volume offered: [D].

Fiscal Year: 1995[D]; Sawtimber: 61,128; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: [D]; Other wood products: Posts: [D]; 
Other wood products: Poles: [D]; Other wood products: Other[B]: [D]; 
Other wood products: Subtotal: [D]; 
Total timber volume offered: [D].

Fiscal Year: 1996[D]; Sawtimber: 25,168; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: [D]; Other wood products: Posts: [D]; 
Other wood products: Poles: [D]; Other wood products: Other[B]: [D]; 
Other wood products: Subtotal: [D]; 
Total timber volume offered: [D].

Fiscal Year: 1997; Sawtimber: 21,148; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 10,502; Other wood products: Posts: 
335; Other wood products: Poles: 2,776; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
471; Other wood products: Subtotal: 14,084; Total timber volume 
offered: 35,232.

Fiscal Year: 1998[E]; Sawtimber: 15,635; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 12,353; Other wood products: Posts: 
388; Other wood products: Poles: 1,807; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
78; Other wood products: Subtotal: 14,626; Total timber volume 
offered: 30,261.

Fiscal Year: 1999[F,G]; Sawtimber: 12,523; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 7,804; Other wood products: Posts: 
468; Other wood products: Poles: 483; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
95; Other wood products: Subtotal: 8,850; Total timber volume 
offered: 21,373.

Fiscal Year: 2000[F]; Sawtimber: 12,327; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 8,584; Other wood products: Posts: 
454; Other wood products: Poles: 207; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
585; Other wood products: Subtotal: 9,830; Total timber volume 
offered: 22,157.

Fiscal Year: 2001[F]; Sawtimber: 17,233; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 8,609; Other wood products: Posts: 
683; Other wood products: Poles: 130; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
65; Other wood products: Subtotal: 9,487; Total timber volume 
offered: 26,720.

Fiscal Year: 2002[F]; Sawtimber: 14,427; Other wood products: 
Cords[A]: 10,463; Other wood products: Posts: 
679; Other wood products: Poles: 303; Other wood products: Other[B]: 
27; Other wood products: Subtotal: 11,472; Total timber volume 
offered: 25,899.

Source: BLM.

[A] Data for cords were rounded for reporting purposes.

[B] "Other" includes miscellaneous wood products such as pulpwood, 
marginal logs, houselogs, fence stays, and hobby wood.

[C] Timber volume offered for sale was not available for the Alaska 
State Office for fiscal year 1990.

[D] BLM was unable to provide information on the volumes of other wood 
products for fiscal years 1994 through 1996. BLM's publication Public 
Land Statistics or its Timber Sale Information System database did not 
include such information.

[E] Data for fiscal year 1998 were originally recorded in hundreds of 
cubic feet. We converted cubic feet data to thousands of board feet 
using a conversion factor of 1.63 as suggested by BLM. However, 
according to BLM, the cubic feet to board feet conversion is not 
standardized and may be different for different sizes of logs or types 
of products.

[F] In fiscal years 1999 through 2002, sawtimber was originally 
recorded in thousands of board feet, but other wood products were 
originally recorded in hundreds of cubic feet. We converted cubic feet 
data to thousands of board feet using a conversion factor of 1.63 as 
suggested by BLM. However, according to BLM, the cubic feet to board 
feet conversion is not standardized and may be different for different 
sizes of logs or types of products.

[G] Data for fiscal year 1999 do not include small sales, which were 
included in all other years.


[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix III: Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from Public Domain 
Lands by BLM State Office, Fiscal Years 1990 and 2002:

Table 3 shows the volume, in board feet, of timber offered for sale in 
fiscal years 1990 and 2002, and their differences in volume, by BLM 
state office.

Table 3: Volume of Timber Offered for Sale from Public Domain Lands by 
BLM State Office, Fiscal Years 1990 and 2002:

Board feet in millions.

Alaska; Fiscal year 1990: Unavailable; Fiscal year 2002: 0.35; 
Difference: --.

Arizona; Fiscal year 1990: 0.91; Fiscal year 2002: 0.21; Difference: 
(0.70).

California; Fiscal year 1990: 5.35; Fiscal year 2002: 2.22; Difference: 
(3.13).

Colorado; Fiscal year 1990: 3.96; Fiscal year 2002: 1.19; Difference: 
(2.77).

Idaho; Fiscal year 1990: 12.96; Fiscal year 2002: 3.98; Difference: 
(8.98).

Montana; Fiscal year 1990: 7.31; Fiscal year 2002: 3.07; Difference: 
(4.24).

Nevada; Fiscal year 1990: 3.25; Fiscal year 2002: 2.91; Difference: 
(0.34).

New Mexico; Fiscal year 1990: 2.63; Fiscal year 2002: 1.49; Difference: 
(1.14).

Oregon (excludes western Oregon); Fiscal year 1990: 55.82; Fiscal year 
2002: 7.66; Difference: (48.16).

Utah; Fiscal year 1990: 5.45; Fiscal year 2002: 1.96; Difference: 
(3.49).

Wyoming; Fiscal year 1990: 3.71; Fiscal year 2002: 0.86; Difference: 
(2.85).

Total; Fiscal year 1990: 101.35[A]; Fiscal year 2002: 25.90; 
Difference: (75.80)[A].

Source: BLM.

Note: BLM's Eastern States Office offered no timber for sale in fiscal 
years 1990 through 2002.

[A] Excludes Alaska.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix IV: Comments from the Department of the Interior:

Note: GAO comments supplementing those in the report text appear at the 
end of this appendix.

See comment 2.

See comment 1.

See comment 6.

See comment 5.

See comment 4.

See comment 3.

United States Department of the Interior:

OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY Washington, D.C. 20240:

JUN 5 2003:

Mr. Barry T. Hill:

Director, Natural Resources and Environment U.S. General Accounting 
Office:

441 G Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20548:

Dear Mr. Hill:

Thank you for the opportunity to review the May 12, 2003, draft report 
to congressional requesters entitled "Bureau of Land Management: Volume 
of Timber Offered for Sale Has Declined Substantially Since 1990" (GAO-
03-615). The work was performed under job code 360209.

The report achieves its objectives of determining the statutory 
framework for public domain timber sales, the trend in timber volume 
offered for sale from public domain land managed by the Bureau of Land 
Management (BLM), and factors contributing to the trend.

The BLM staff met with General Accounting Office (GAO) analysts to 
discuss the statement of facts, which is the basis of this draft 
report. Much of the BLM's feedback has been incorporated into the draft 
report. In addition, I would like to provide more information and 
clarification.

The title of the report should be changed to recognize that the report 
deals with only the BLM forests and woodlands management program on 
public domain.land. The findings are not related to the BLM's forest 
management program on the more than 2 million acres of forests on 
Oregon and California grant lands in western Oregon.

The 44 million acres of public domain woodlands pose unique management 
challenges for the BLM. Woodlands are areas covered with tree species 
that in general have little or no commercial value. As such, they were 
never included in land use plans as areas considered for any type of 
sustained yield harvest. Some woodlands contain species, such as aspen 
or oak, that provide critical wildlife habitat. Other woodlands, such 
as areas dominated by closed canopy pinyon and juniper, can be 
detrimental to wildlife habitat by shading the understory vegetation 
resulting in a loss of soil and plant diversity. Such stands also 
contribute to an increased risk of crown fires. Managing public domain 
woodlands for land health, along with the 9 million acres of forests, 
is critical to the BLM's providing healthy landscapes now and in the 
future. This distinction is noted in the BLM's use of the term "forests 
and woodlands management" program.

The last paragraph on page 3 of GAO's draft report states that BLM 
management of forests and woodlands resources has resulted in timber 
becoming a by-product rather than the focus of BLM's management of its 
land. The BLM's 9 million acres of forest land represent the total 
public domain area that supports commercial tree species, such as 
ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, and larch. The BLM does 
not agree with GAO's statement on page 6 that mitigation is not 
required for adverse impacts resulting from operations on these lands. 
Best management practices and associated project design features, such 
as designation of riparian habitat and restrictions on operations on 
fragile slopes, are standard practice and reduce the available public 
domain land for forestry. When combined with other environmental 
restrictions noted in the draft report, the base for timber operations 
is reduced more. The lack of a current inventory of timber resources is 
exacerbated by a general de-emphasis on land use planning starting in 
the early 1990s. These facts, when combined with increased management 
emphasis on forest health, have resulted in less emphasis on timber 
harvest for commodity values. However, BLM foresters seek to capture 
the economic value of all forest operations, whenever practicality and 
staff allow.

The BLM has already begun to take action on some of the findings in 
this draft report. The BLM is recruiting new foresters, in part, to 
support the National Fire Plan. Filling new forester positions will 
help to ensure that forest health considerations, such as species 
composition, stand structure, and insect or disease occurrences, are 
fully considered in addition to hazardous fuel reduction. All BLM State 
Directors have submitted detailed action plans to meet State-specific 
needs for renewed emphasis on forests and woodlands management. The 
President's fiscal year 2004 budget proposes a $1 million increase in 
funding for the public domain forests and woodlands management program. 
This increase in funding will be used to improve utilization of small 
diameter wood materials, improve forest health, and provide 
entrepreneurial opportunities in the wood products industry.

Within the section titled "Shift in Program Emphasis Has Led to Mill 
Closures, BLM Staffing Changes, and Insufficient Inventory Data," GAO 
noted ". . . using constant 2002 dollars, (the) BLM's appropriations 
for the public domain forestry management program declined from $8.5 
million in fiscal year 1990 to $6.2 million in (fiscal year) 2002." It 
is important to reinforce that the volume of timber from public domain 
land offered for sale and the BLM budget for managing public domain 
forestry both declined significantly since 1990. This important finding 
deserves to be highlighted in a section headed "BLM Budget for Forests 
and Woodlands Management Declined Significantly Since 1990.":

Impacts on the industry are related to total volume of timber offered. 
It is worth putting into context that the amount of timber offered for 
sale from public domain land managed by the BLM is small compared to 
the timber offered for sale by the Forest Service or State and private 
landowners. As the GAO noted, the Forest Service offered 11 billion 
board feet of timber for sale from national forests in 1990. By 
comparison, the BLM offered only:

80 million board feet of timber from public domain forests in 1990.

If you have any questions, please contact Michael J. Haske, Acting 
Group Manager, Forests and Woodlands Management, at 202-452-0312 or 
Andrea Nygren, BLM Audit Liaison Officer, at 202-452-5153.

Sincerely,

Rebecca W. Watson 
Assistant Secretary 
Land and Minerals Management:

Signed by Rebecca W. Watson:

cc: Roy Judy, General Accounting Office:

The following are GAO comments on the Department of the Interior's 
letter dated June 5, 2003.

GAO's Comments:

1. We changed the title to be more specific to public domain lands.

2. In accordance with our job objectives, our report addresses the 
trend in the volume of timber offered for sale from both public domain 
forests and woodlands. Furthermore, the report notes that woodlands 
typically have significantly lower productivity than forests.

3. We deleted reference to the federal regulations generally not 
requiring mitigation of adverse impacts resulting from operations on 
public domain lands. We added information to clarify that the federal 
regulations referred to in the draft report were those that implement 
the National Environmental Policy Act. The department agreed with this 
clarification.

4. We agree that the change of emphasis has affected the volume of 
timber offered for sale, which is already clearly articulated in the 
report.

5. We agree that both the budget and the volume of timber offered for 
sale have declined significantly. We have included a reference to the 
budgetary decline in a section heading.

6. We agree that the volume of timber offered for sale from BLM's 
public domain lands is small compared to offerings from Forest Service 
or state or private land. As the report indicates, the Forest Service 
offered 4 billion board feet of timber for sale from national forests 
in 1997, while BLM offered 35 million board feet--21 million board feet 
of sawtimber and 14 million board feet of other wood products--from 
public domain lands. Also, the report points out that about 7 percent 
of the nation's domestically produced timber and wood products come 
from federally managed forests, which include BLM and Forest Service 
forests. Therefore, the remaining 93 percent is from nonfederal lands, 
which include state and private lands.

[End of section]

Appendix V: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments:

GAO Contacts:

Barry T. Hill (202) 512-3841 (hillbt@gao.gov):

Staff Acknowledgments:

In addition to the above, Andrew S. Bauck, Linda L. Harmon, Richard P. 
Johnson, Chester M. Joy, Roy K. Judy, Rosellen McCarthy, Jonathan S. 
McMurray, Paul E. Staley, and Amy E. Webbink made key contributions to 
this report.

FOOTNOTES

[1] A board foot is a measure of timber volume equal to a board one 
inch thick and one foot in both length and width.

[2] BLM's program for forests and woodlands in western Oregon covers 
about 2.4 million acres that are highly productive.

[3] BLM defines forests as those lands dominated by tree species that 
are typically used commercially by the forest products industry, and 
woodlands as those lands dominated by other tree species. Woodlands 
typically have significantly lower productivity than forests.

[4] The appropriation included an additional $1.4 million for the 
Headwaters Forest Reserve in California. According to BLM, this amount 
was not available for the public domain forestry management program.

[5] 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701(a)(7), 1732(a).

[6] Several terms have been used when referring to this program 
emphasis and its various dimensions, including "ecosystem management," 
"forest health," "land health," and "forest ecosystem health." These 
terms (1) all generally refer to approaches for managing timber and 
other resources in relation to one another or desired overall 
conditions of forest ecosystems, (2) have no generally accepted 
definitions, and (3) are sometimes, but not always, used 
interchangeably. In this report we have used the term "forest ecosystem 
health" because, in our view, it broadly reflects important dimensions 
of the shift in program emphasis discussed and it encompasses both the 
program objective (forest health) and the management approach used to 
achieve it (ecosystem management).

[7] Forest Service Priorities: Evolving Mission Favors Resource 
Protection Over Production, GAO/RCED-99-166 (Washington, D.C.: June 17, 
1999).

[8] Ecosystem Management in the BLM: From Concept to Commitment 
(Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, January 1994).

[9] Idaho's Forest Products Industry: A Descriptive Analysis 1979-1996 
(The Bureau of Business and Economic Research, School of Business 
Administration, The University of Montana, December 1997) and Montana's 
Forest Products Industry: A descriptive analysis, 1969-2000 (The Bureau 
of Business and Economic Research, School of Business Administration, 
The University of Montana, September 2001).

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