Emergency Salvage Sale Program:

Forest Service Met Its Target, but More Timber Could Have Been Offered for Sale

RCED-97-53: Published: Feb 24, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's emergency salvage timber program, commonly referred to as the salvage rider, focusing on: (1) the volume of salvage timber offered by the Forest Service under the salvage rider from fiscal year (FY) 1995 through December 1996 compared with the volume that it had planned to offer for the same period prior to passage of the rider; (2) the effect of the Secretary of Agriculture's July 2, 1996, memorandum, which placed more restrictions on salvage sales; (3) whether four specific provisions of the salvage rider helped the Forest Service to offer salvage timber for sale more timely; and (4) whether certain salvage sales that were of concern to environmental organizations met the definition of salvage timber as specified in the salvage rider and Forest Service's guidelines.

GAO found that: (1) under the emergency salvage program, the Forest Service offered for sale a total of 4.6 billion board feet of salvage timber, which was 1.2 billion board feet more than the Forest Service had planned to offer before the rider; (2) the total volume offered under the rider was about 2 percent more than the target of 4.5 billion board feet specified in the Secretary of Agriculture's letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives; (3) the volume of salvage timber offered for sale under the salvage rider could have been significantly greater; (4) four selected provisions of the rider had little effect on either expediting the preparation and award of salvage sales or increasing the volume of the salvage timber offered for sale for the four forests GAO visited; (5) two of the provisions, eliminating the appeals process and expediting judicial review, were of little help because, traditionally, the Forest Service experiences few appeals or legal challenges when selling salvage timber; (6) the rider required that for each salvage sale, the national forest shall prepare a document that combines an environmental assessment and a biological evaluation; (7) this provision was implemented by simply attaching the documents together; (8) Forest Service officials believed that by continuing to prepare separate documents, they could plan and prepare their salvage sales faster and that combining the two documents resulted in an excessive amount of detailed information that was not needed for decisionmaking activities; (9) at the four forests GAO visited, only one retired employee was rehired and a few contractors were used; (10) nationwide, 10 retired employees were rehired and no statistics are available on how may contractors were used: (11) GAO reviewed 14 salvage sales for which the Forest Service had received complaints from environmental organizations that the sales contained excessive volumes of green timber, live and healthy trees, and thus did not comply with the definition of a salvage sale under the salvage rider; (12) GAO's analysis of the contract files for all of the 14 salvage sales showed that they contained sufficient documentation to support the Forest Service's conclusions that these sales met the salvage rider's definition of a salvage sale and the Forest Service's guidelines for implementing the rider; and (13) however, the Forest Service delayed offering 6 of the 14 timber sales until after the salvage rider had expired because of the more restrictive eligibility criteria for salvage sales set forth in the Secretary of Agriculture's memorandum.

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