oversight

Forest Service: Construction of National Forest Roads

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-05-27.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States

GAO   General Accounting Of&e
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Resources, Community,   and
      Economic Development    Division


        B-276881



       May 27, 1997


        The Honorable John R. Kasich
        Chairman, Committee on the Budget
        House of Representatives

        Subject:   Forest Service:       Construction   of National   Forest
                   Roads

        Dear Mr. Chairman:

       As agreed with your office, we are providing you with information on the
       Forest Service’s road-building program. We briefed your office on the results
       of our work on May 21, 1997.

        Our objectives were to (1) describe how the Forest Service determines the
        need for and the types of roads to be constructed in national forests,
        (2) determine how and why the Forest Service’s road-building costs differ from
        those of other timber sellers, and (3) identify actions the Forest Service could
        take to reduce these costs. These issues are discussed below and in
        enclosure 1, which includes the presentation provided at our briefing. We
        reviewed the Forest Service’s policies, procedures, and plans to determine how
        the Forest Service identifies the need for and the types of forest roads to
        construct. We also compared the Forest Service’s policies, procedures, and
        plans with similar information obtained from the Bureau of Land Management,
        the Bureau of Indian Affairs, three Indian tribes, and six states to identify
        differences in the treatment of road construction costs. In addition, we
        interviewed purchasers of federal timber, timber industry representatives,    and
        members of the environmental community to identify actions that the Forest
        Service could take to reduce its forest road construction costs.




                                                             GAO/RCED-97-160R National   Forest Roads
B-276881

SUMMARY

The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (Public
Law 93-378), as amended, requires that the national forests construct an
adequate and safe system of forest roads. To comply with this requirement
and to determine the need for permanent forest roads, each national forest
prepares a forest management plan. Forest plans, which cover a period of up
to 15 years, are designed to, among other things, identify forest road needs on
the basis of such factors as public access, the location of planned timber sales,
programmed wildlife management activities, and efforts to improve timber
stands, such as thinning and fertilizing.    However, forest plans, most of which
were prepared and approved 10 to 15 years ago, may be outdated because the
conditions on national forests, such as the volume of timber that can be
harvested, may have changed significantly-perhaps       negating the need for some
or all of the roads identified in the plans.

There are three primary differences in road construction costs between the
Forest Service and other federal and state timber sellers. Specifically:

-       Harvesting timber often requires that a timber purchaser construct access
        roads to move logging equipment into and out of timber harvest areas and
        to transport harvested logs. The Forest Service and most of the other
        federal and state timber sellers we reviewed generally use similar guidelines
        to estimate the costs of the access roads to be constructed by a timber
        purchaser. However, in accordance with the National Forest Roads and
        Trails Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-657), the Forest Service may give “road
        credits” to a timber purchaser equal to the estimated costs of constructing
        forest roads. The timber purchaser can use the road credits instead of cash
        to pay for some of the harvested timber. On the other hand, other federal
        and state timber sellers generally do not give road credits to timber
        purchasers. They require that the purchasers factor road construction costs
         into their bids for the timber, and it is generally assumed that purchasers
         lower their bids to account for these costs. However, whether there is a
         dollar-for-dollar reduction in the bids is not known.

-       Of the timber sellers we reviewed that give road credits, only the Forest
        Service is required by law to treat road credits as receipts even though no
        cash is actually received for the timber. The federal government is required
        by the 1908 Twenty-Five Percent Fund Act to pay the states in which
        national forests are located 25 percent of all Forest Service receipts derived
        each year from each national forest. In 1976, the National Forest
        Management Act required that Forest Service road credits be included as


    2                                             GAOIRCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
    B-276881

        receipts in calculating the 25percent payment to the states. In fiscal year
        1996, about $41 million in road credits were used by timber purchasers to
        pay for timber. As a result, the federal government paid more than $10
        million to the states.

        Although the Forest Service and most of the other federal and state timber
        sellers we reviewed use similar cost guidelines to construct roads, road
        costs are not entirely comparable because, in some cases, the Forest
        Service constructs roads to a higher safety standard. The Forest Service’s
        policy provides that some national forest roads remain open after timber
        harvesting has been completed so that Forest Service employees can
        continue to perform their forest management responsibilities    and the public
        can access forest resources for such activities as hunting, camping, and
        fishing. The Forest Service roads that remain open cost more because they
        must be designed to higher standards to ensure the public’s safety and
        protect the resources. While some of the other federal and state timber
        sellers permit public access to some roads, this access is more limited than
        that of the Forest Service, thus allowing the other sellers to have fewer
        roads designed to higher safety standards.

    Timber industry representatives, environmentalists,   and purchasers of federal
    timber suggested to us various actions that the Forest Service could take to
    reduce its forest road costs and still improve public safely on forest roads,
    reduce the impact of forest roads on the environment, and improve the ability
    of the Forest Service to fully maintain the national forest road system. For
    example, although the Forest Service already does some cost sharing, it could
    enter into more cost-sharing agreements with other federal, state, and private
    agencies that benefit from the roads. Also, because many forest road plans
    may be outdated-some      roads may no longer be needed-it was suggested that
    the Forest Service could’defer further construction of new roads except for
    those roads already approved and those roads needed to protect sensitive
    areas, pending the completion of a detailed review of the current resource and
    management needs in the national forests. In addition, it was suggested that
    the Forest Service could eliminate road credits and require timber purchasers
,
    to construct roads as part of the timber sale contract. However, it is assumed
    that this action would lower timber receipts because the purchasers would
    reduce their bids to account for some or all of the estimated road costs. In
    addition, the Forest Service would not pay 25 percent of the purchasers’ road
    credits to the states, a requirement that was authorized by the National Forest
    Management Act of 1976.




    3                                             GAO/RCED-97-160R National   Forest Roads
B-276881


AGENCY COMMENTS

We provided the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service, the
Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau
of Indian Affairs with a draft of this report for comment. We met with Forest
Service officials, including the Acting Director and other members of the
National Forest System engineering staff. These officials agreed with the
information presented in the draft report and suggested clarii?cations to our
report that we incorporated as appropriate.     Department of the Interior,
Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials did not
have any comments on the draft report.



We performed our work from September 1996 through April 1997 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Please call me at (206) 287-4810 if you or your staff have any questions. Major
contributors to this report were Edward M. Zadjura, John S. Kalmar, Jr.,
Araceli Contreras, June M. Foster, Hugo H. Wolter, Jr., and Robert B. Arthur.




                     nergy, Resources,


Enclosure
               c/




                                            GAO/WED-97-160R   National   Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                        ENCLOSURE      I




G+U Resources Community, and Economic
    Developmht Division


       Review of the Forest Service’s road-
       building program




 5                            GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                           ENCLOSURE I




w         FOREST SERVICE ROADS
          Objectives
      l   How does the Forest Service determine
          its need for forest roads?
      l   How and why do the Forest Service’s
          road-building costs differ from other
          timber sellers’?
      l   What changes could be made to reduce
          the Forest Service’s road-building costs?




                                                                          i
6                                GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
 ENCLOSURE       I                                             ENCLOSURE I




tzf~       FOREST SERVICE ROADS
           Scope
       l   Agencies contacted
             l       Forest Service: HQ; Regions 1,3,6;
                     Lolo, Coconino, and Umpqua NFs
             l       Bureau of Land Management:
                     Arizona, Oregon, and Montana
             l       Bureau of Indian Affairs/Native
                     American Tribes: Confederated Salish
                     and Kootenai, White River Ft. Apache,
                     Warm Springs




                                         GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                            ENCLOSURE I




GAQ FOREST SERVICE ROADS
    Scope
      l   Other groups contacted
          l   Congressional Research Service,
              industry trade groups, timber
              purchasers, environmental groups




                                                                                      *I

                                                                            . .   :        :;.




                                   GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                             ENCLOSURE I




GcK) FOREST SERVICE ROADS
     Background
     l   About 380,000 miles of roads in FY ‘96
         l    Forest Service estimates that road
              system is about 90% completed
     l   5 maintenance levels generally
         represent the quality and drivability
         l    5highest   level, paved, high speed
         l     4--paved or gravel surface, lower
              speed for cars




9                                 GAOIRCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                                     ENCLOSURE I




w        FOREST SERVICE ROADS
         Background

             l        3--gravel or natural surface, suitable
                     for cars
             l        2--rough, natural surface, high
                     clearance vehicles
                 l    l--closed to vehicular traffic


         l           70% of FS roads are level 1 or 2




    10                                      GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                             ENCLOSURE      I




w       FOREST SERVICE ROADS
        Background

     Since FY ‘90, road building has declined


                         FY ‘90                      FY ‘96
       Miles built        1,924                           435
       Miles rebuilt      4,436                        2,801




11                                GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                                                                                   ENCLOSURE I




w        FOREST SERVICE ROADS
         Background
          Expenditures ($mil)                                                   FY ‘90                         FY ‘96
                 Appropriated                                               $147.0                             $84.3
                 Purchaser credit,                                               119.3                           41.3
                 Subtotal                                                     $266.3                           $125.6
                 Payments to states,                                                  29.8                        10.3
                 Total                                                        $296.1                          $135.9


     1. Timber purchasers are required to build any roads specified in timber sale contracts. In return, the Forest Service
        grants them a credit against the timber sale price equal to the estimated cost of the roadwork.
     2. By law, states receive 25 percent of all receipts generated on national forest lands.   Since 1976, purchaser road
        credits have been included as receipts in calculating the 25-percent payment.




12                                                                            GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                            ENCLOSURE I




w      FOREST SERVICE ROADS
       Background
        Maintenance expenditures have also
        declined
                                 FY ‘90                FY ‘96
          Dollars spent ($mil)    $96.9                   $77.1
         Miles
              fully maintained    172,100 152,800
              not fully maintained 190,900 227,400




13                               GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
    ENCLOSURE1                                               ENCLOSUREI




    w            FOREST SERVICE ROADS
                 How does the FS determine road needs?
         l       Forest plans identify the need for roads
l

                 based on timber sales, resource
                 management, and public access needs.
         l       Forest plans cover a 10-l 5-year period
                 and can take up to 10 years to develop;
                 most plans, which were approved over
                 10 years ago, may be outdated because
                 conditions have changed significantly.
             l   Roads are planned/designed         by forest
                 staff, including engineers.




                                         GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                            ENCLOSURE I




GAQFOREST SERVICE ROADS
   How does the FS determine road needs?


     l   Road construction and reconstruction are
         funded by appropriations and timber sale
         purchaser road credits (PRC).
     l   Timber sale PRCs are based on FS’
         estimate of road construction and
         reconstruction costs using regional cost
         guides. The estimate includes a profit
         margin for purchasers.




15                               GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE       I                                             ENCLOSURE I




GAQ FOREST SERVICE ROADS
    Differences between FS and others
      l   Since 1964, FS has used PRCs to pay
          for road construction and reconstruction.
            l       FS credits the cost of the road against
                    the purchaser’s cost of the timber.
            l       No direct accountability for the
                    accuracy of FS’ PRC cost estimates
                    because purchasers are not required
                    to report actual costs of construction
                    and reconstruction.




 16                                      GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                                 ENCLOSURE I




w            FOREST SERVICE ROADS
             Differences between FS and others
         l   BLM and BIA do not use PRCs. Their
             purchasers construct and reconstruct
             roads as part of the timber sale contract;
             it is believed that purchasers lower their
             bids by the amount of road costs.
         l   Construction & maintenance costs vary.
              l   Construction costs should be similar if
                  the same road is built in the same
                  geographic area, since all agencies
     I            generally use similar cost guides.




17                                    GAO/WED-97- 160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                                ENCLOSURE I




w      FOREST SERVICE ROADS
       Differences between FS and others
         l       FS roads may be built to a somewhat
                 higher standard, since they may be
                 left open for recreation and other
                 uses and may be subject to applicable
                 Federal Highway Administration
                 (FHWA) safety standards.
             l   Since FS leaves roads open,
                 maintenance is higher, especially to
                 meet safety and resource protection
                 needs.




                                      GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                             ENCLOSURE I




G/Q FOREST SERVICE ROADS
    Differences between FS and others
         l    By law, the federal government pays
              an amount equal to 25% of PRCs’to
              states in which national forests are
              located.




19                                GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                           ENCLOSURE I




G+W FOREST SERVICE ROADS
    Changes that could lower road costs
      0   Because of concerns about safety, the
          environment, and FS’ ability to maintain
          its existing road system, suggestions
          have been made to us that FS could
          l   Defer construction of new roads
              except for those already approved and
              those needed to protect sensitive
              areas, pending a detailed review of
              current forest needs




                                                                          :.:
 20                              GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                              ENCLOSURE I




w      FOREST SERVICE ROADS
       Changes that could lower road costs
         l    Include road construction and
              reconstruction in timber sale contracts
              as BLM and BIA do (reduces FS’
              timber sale receipts and 25% payment
              to states)
         l    Enter into more cost-sharing
              agreements with other federal, state,
              and private agencies that benefit from
              the roads




21                                 GAOIRCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
ENCLOSURE I                                              ENCLOSURE I




GM         FOREST SERVICE ROADS
           Changes that could lower road costs
            l   Reduce the category of roads and the
                associated usage, thus lowering the
                amount of maintenance needed
            l   Close or obliterate roads that do not
                provide access to recreation areas or
                are no longer needed to manage
                forest resources




(140543)


22                                  GAO/RCED-97-160R National Forest Roads
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