oversight

Emergency Salvage Sale Program: Forest Service Met Its Target, but More Timber Could Have Been Offered for Sale

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-02-24.

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

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to the Chairman, Committee on
                 Energy and Natural Resources, U.S.
                 Senate


February 1997
                 EMERGENCY SALVAGE
                 SALE PROGRAM
                 Forest Service Met Its
                 Target, but More Timber
                 Could Have Been Offered
                 for Sale




GAO/RCED-97-53
                   United States
GAO                General Accounting Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20548

                   Resources, Community, and
                   Economic Development Division

                   B-275987

                   February 24, 1997

                   Frank H. Murkowski
                   Chairman, Committee on Energy and
                     Natural Resources
                   United States Senate

                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                   In July 1995, the Congress established the emergency salvage timber sale
                   program.1 The program, commonly referred to as the salvage rider, was
                   intended to increase the amount of salvage timber offered for sale and sold
                   by instituting an expedited sale process that, among other things, eased
                   environmental procedures, eliminated the administrative appeals process,
                   and expedited judicial reviews. You expressed concern about how well the
                   rider has worked because the Committee may consider either renewing
                   the salvage rider, which expired on December 31, 1996, or including the
                   provisions of the rider in a proposed forest health bill.

                   As agreed with your office, we (1) compared the volume of salvage timber
                   offered by the Forest Service under the salvage rider from fiscal year 1995
                   through December 1996 with the volume that it had planned to offer for
                   the same period prior to passage of the rider, and determined the effect of
                   the Secretary of Agriculture’s July 2, 1996, memorandum, which placed
                   more restrictions on salvage sales; (2) determined whether four specific
                   provisions of the salvage rider helped the Forest Service to offer salvage
                   timber for sale more timely; and (3) determined if 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.


                   Under the emergency salvage program, the Forest Service offered for sale
Results in Brief   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. 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 June 29, 1995, letter to the Speaker of the House of


                   1
                    This program was part of the Title II, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Additional Disaster
                   Assistance, for Anti-terrorism Initiatives, for Assistance in the Recovery From the Tragedy That
                   Occurred at Oklahoma City, and Rescissions Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-19, July 27, 1995). The act also
                   relates to the Bureau of Land Management’s salvage sales; however, our work was limited to those
                   sales by the Forest Service.



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Representatives. However, the volume of salvage timber offered for sale
under the salvage rider could have been significantly greater. For example,
on July 2, 1996, the Secretary of Agriculture placed more restrictions on
the criteria to classify sales as salvage sales under the rider, which
resulted in the delay of 224 sales containing 722 million board feet that the
Forest Service had planned to offer for sale. In addition, on December 13,
1996, the Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural
Resources and Environment directed the Forest Service not to advertise
any salvage sales under the rider after that date. This resulted in delaying
27 additional sales involving 29.7 million board feet.

Four selected provisions of the rider—eliminating the administrative
appeals process, expediting judicial reviews, combining environmental
documents, and hiring retired employees and contractors—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 we visited. 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. The rider required that for each salvage sale, the
national forest shall prepare a document that combines an environmental
assessment and a biological evaluation. This provision was implemented
by simply attaching the documents together. 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 the decision-making activities pertaining to the forests’
salvage sales. Finally, at the four forests visited, only one retired employee
was rehired and a few contractors were used. Nationwide, 10 retired
employees were rehired; no statistics are available on how many
contractors were used.

We 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.
Our 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.
However, the Forest Service delayed offering 6 of the 14 timber sales until
after the salvage rider had expired because of the more restrictive



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             eligibility criteria for salvage sales set forth in the Secretary of
             Agriculture’s July 2, 1996, memorandum.


             The Forest Service, within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, manages
Background   the 192 million-acre national forest system with its 155 national forests.
             During the past 12 years, such phenomena as insect infestations, droughts,
             and wildfires have increased on the national forest system’s
             lands—particularly for western national forests—which have been altered
             over several decades by timber-harvesting practices and the control of
             wildfires. In 1996, for example, almost 50,000 wildfires on national forest
             lands burned over 1.1 million acres. The aforementioned phenomena have
             contributed to the amount of salvage timber on the national forest
             system’s lands.

             Since fiscal year 1977, the Forest Service has annually offered for sale
             about 1.6 billion board feet of salvage timber. Over this same 20-year
             period, however, the range of salvage timber offered varied from a low of
             762 million board feet in fiscal year 1977, when the Forest Service first
             funded salvage sales, to a high of almost 2.9 billion board feet in fiscal year
             1990 (see app. I). However, notwithstanding these efforts over the last 20
             years, the Forest Service estimates that the national forests still contain
             about 13 billion board feet of salvage timber. While some of the salvage
             timber is inaccessible or too deteriorated to be of commercial value, much
             of it is marketable. Selling such timber can lessen the danger from future
             fires, improve the health of forests, and provide mills with a supply of
             timber. However, time is critical when selling salvage timber because it
             can deteriorate rapidly, thus making the harvest of such timber
             economically unfeasible.

             To reduce the amount of salvage timber on national forest lands, the
             Congress established the emergency salvage program—referred to as the
             salvage rider—as part of the rescissions act of July 27, 1995. The salvage
             rider contained a number of provisions that were intended to increase the
             volume of salvage timber that the Forest Service offered for sale during
             the emergency period—July 27, 1995, to December 31, 1996. To increase
             the volume of salvage timber offered, the provisions in the salvage rider,
             among other things, exempted salvage sales from administrative appeals,
             limited the time available for the judicial review of salvage sales, eased the
             environmental procedures for planning and preparing salvage sales, and
             allowed rehiring retired employees without penalty. The salvage rider,
             which expired on December 31, 1996, also required the Secretary of



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                           Agriculture to provide congressional committees with periodic progress
                           reports.


                           For fiscal years 1995 and 1996 and the first quarter of fiscal 1997, the
Projected Salvage          Forest Service offered for sale a total of 4.6 billion board feet of salvage
Volumes Were               timber, which was 1.2 billion board feet above the programmed levels for
Achieved, but More         this period before the salvage rider.2 In addition, the total volume offered
                           was about 2 percent more than the projected target of 4.5 billion board
Could Have Been            feet specified in the Secretary of Agriculture’s June 29, 1995, letter to the
Offered for Sale           Speaker of the House. However, significantly greater volumes could have
                           been offered because the Forest Service, at the Department of
                           Agriculture’s direction, delayed 251 salvage sales involving about
                           752 million board feet that the Forest Service had planned to offer for sale
                           under the emergency salvage program.


Salvage Volumes Offered    In enacting the emergency salvage program, the Congress did not establish
Under the Rider Exceeded   a specific level of increased salvage offerings that would achieve the
Prior Program Levels       purposes of the legislation. However, the Congress indicated that the
                           Secretary of Agriculture was to achieve, to the maximum extent feasible, a
                           sale volume of salvage timber above the previously programmed levels to
                           reduce the backlogged volume of salvage timber.

                           By letter dated June 29, 1995, the Secretary of Agriculture advised the
                           Speaker of the House that the Forest Service projected that its target was
                           to offer about 4.5 billion board feet of salvage timber, plus or minus 25
                           percent, for sale under the emergency salvage program in fiscal years
                           1995, 1996, and the first quarter of fiscal year 1997.3 The Secretary said that
                           the actual amount offered would depend on resource conditions, markets,
                           and changes in resource capability. As can be seen from table 1, the Forest

                           2
                            The Forest Service traditionally uses the term “offered” to reflect those sales formally advertised for
                           sale rather than the definition in contract law that a timber sale is considered offered only when the
                           Forest Service receives bids on the advertised timber. The Forest Service, in its required reports to the
                           Congress under the rider, as well as in its requests for appropriations, used the traditional definition of
                           offered. Therefore, because the Forest Service developed its initial targets using this definition, it
                           seems to be a reasonable measure of achievement under the rider, and we are also using it throughout
                           this report.
                           3
                            It should be noted that this initial projection and the subsequent reports to the Congress dealing with
                           the volumes of salvage timber offered used time periods different from the “emergency period” cited in
                           the legislation. We could not reconcile this difference because the Forest Service did not maintain
                           information on the volumes planned for sale during August and September 1995—the first 2 months of
                           the emergency period. Therefore, we elected to use the same period used by the Forest Service in its
                           reports to the Congress under the salvage rider—fiscal years 1995 and 1996 and the first quarter of
                           fiscal 1997.



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                                        Service offered 1.2 billion board feet more than the amount that had been
                                        programmed before the salvage rider.

Table 1: Original Planned Target and
Actual Salvage Timber Volumes           Board feet in millions
Offered in Fiscal Years 1995 and 1996                                                         Fiscal year
and the First Quarter of Fiscal 1997
                                                                                     1995             1996             1997a            Total
                                                                                                                             b
                                        Original planned target                      1,587            1,449              357            3,393
                                        Actual volume offered                        1,852            1,936              818            4,606
                                        Increase over original                         265              487              461            1,213
                                        planned target
                                        a
                                            First quarter of the fiscal year.
                                        b
                                         The Forest Service did not have quarterly records on planned salvage volumes. Therefore, we
                                        used 25 percent of the planned annual volume.



                                        In the Department’s first and second required reports, the Secretary of
                                        Agriculture informed the Congress on September 1, 1995, and February 29,
                                        1996, that the Forest Service intended to offer 4.5 billion board feet of
                                        salvage timber for sale, or an increase of about 1.1 billion board feet over
                                        the planned level of about 3.4 billion board feet. However, the Secretary
                                        emphasized that this target was an estimate and that final volumes could
                                        vary as much as plus or minus 25 percent—that is, from 3.4 billion to
                                        5.6 billion board feet. As can be seen in table 2, the Forest Service
                                        exceeded the target specified by the Secretary of Agriculture.

Table 2: Initial Target and Actual
Salvage Timber Volumes Offered in       Board feet in millions
Fiscal Years 1995 and 1996 and the                                                            Fiscal year
First Quarter of Fiscal 1997
                                                                                     1995             1996             1997a            Total
                                        Initial target under the                     1,714            2,065              683            4,462
                                        salvage rider
                                        Actual volume offered                        1,852            1,936              818            4,606b
                                        Increase or decrease over                      138             (129)             135                144
                                        initial target
                                        a
                                            First quarter of the fiscal year.
                                        b
                                         The total volume actually sold was less than the total volume offered for sale because about
                                        265 million board feet that has been offered had not been awarded to the high bidder by
                                        December 31, 1996, and will be awarded in the second quarter of fiscal 1997, and about
                                        470 million board feet received no bids due to deterioration of the timber and a reduction in the
                                        chip market.




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                         Because the Forest Service does not maintain an inventory of salvage
                         timber, we were unable to determine the extent to which the Forest
                         Service’s salvage timber sales during the emergency period had actually
                         reduced the estimated 13 billion board feet of salvage timber capable of
                         being harvested from the national forests.4 The Forest Service does not
                         know whether the volume of available salvage timber increased or
                         decreased during the emergency period, because additional insect and fire
                         damage continued to destroy green timber, while other timber was being
                         lost to deterioration. The Forest Service does not know whether the
                         current estimate of salvage timber capable of being harvested is more or
                         less than the 13 billion board feet estimated at the time of the legislation.


Department of            The Secretary of Agriculture’s July 2, 1996, memorandum to the Forest
Agriculture’s Actions    Service provided revised direction for the emergency salvage sale
Delayed the Sale of      program.5 According to the memorandum, the Secretary wanted to ensure
                         that, pursuant to the President’s direction, the sales prepared under the
Significant Volumes of   program (1) met the same environmental standards that they would have if
Salvage Timber           they were prepared absent the enabling legislation and (2) would
                         withstand normal review and appeal. The Secretary prescribed the criteria
                         for all proposed sales for which bids had not yet been opened but allowed
                         the sales not meeting these criteria to be prepared under authorities other
                         than the emergency salvage program.6

                         In accordance with these more stringent criteria, the Forest Service
                         reviewed its proposed salvage offerings and identified a total of 224
                         salvage sales, with an associated volume of 722 million board feet, that did
                         not qualify for emergency sale status under the program. According to

                         4
                          The Forest Service estimated that a volume of 13 billion board feet of salvage timber was capable of
                         being harvested as of April 1995. According to Forest Service officials, the volume of 13 billion board
                         feet does not meet the substantive requirements of all of the applicable environmental laws, forest
                         plan standards and guidelines, or Endangered Species Act consultations. Furthermore, these officials
                         said that if all of these requirements were applied, the available volume estimated by the agency would
                         be about 5 billion board feet.
                         5
                          On September 16, 1996, we issued a legal opinion (B-274505) to the Chairman, Subcommittee on
                         Forests and Public Lands Management, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. We
                         stated that the Secretary’s memorandum constituted a “rule” as defined in 5 U.S.C. 804(3). As a
                         consequence, the Secretary of Agriculture was required by 5 U.S.C. 801 (a)(1)(A) to submit a report to
                         both the House and the Senate and to us in order for the rule to become effective. The Secretary of
                         Agriculture disagreed with the GAO opinion and thus did not file the required report with either the
                         Congress or us.
                         6
                          The criteria were supplemented by the Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural
                         Resources and Environment’s October 18, 1996, memorandum to the Chief of the Forest Service,
                         which stated that the presence of mistletoe—a slow-moving parasite that rarely kills trees—should not
                         be considered an emergency unless the mistletoe threatens to change the structure of the timber stand
                         within 3 years.



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Forest Service officials, these sales were delayed until after the salvage
rider expired on December 31, 1996. Appendix II shows, by national forest,
the number of sales, associated volumes, and reason why the sales were
delayed as a result of the Secretary’s July 2, 1996, memorandum.

The third required report to the Congress, dated August 30, 1996, reflected
the more stringent criteria in the Secretary’s memorandum. The projected
volume of salvage timber to be offered was reduced from 4.5 billion to
3.8 billion board feet, which the report said was within the 4.5-billion
board foot (plus or minus 25 percent) target in the Secretary’s letter to the
Speaker of the House.

On December 6, 1996, the Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for
Natural Resources and Environment issued a memorandum to the Forest
Service that provided the results of the Department’s review of the
deferred sales submitted for exemption from the Secretary’s July
memorandum by Members of Congress or the public. In total, the Under
Secretary exempted 10 sales from the Secretary’s memorandum and
allowed these sales to proceed. Eight of the 10 sales, comprising a total
volume of 6.93 million board feet, were offered before the expiration of
the rider on December 31, 1996. According to Forest Service officials, the
remaining two sales, comprising a total volume of 0.6 million board feet,
were not offered because there was not sufficient time to prepare the
sales.

Finally, on December 13, 1996, the Under Secretary issued a second
memorandum to the Forest Service that provided the final direction for
the remainder of the emergency salvage program. The Under Secretary
stated that the Forest Service should begin a steady transition to the
expiration of the salvage rider and the return to full public participation in
and legal review of the sale of salvage timber. He further stated that”[t]o
reenforce the Department’s commitment to implement the salvage rider in
an evenhanded manner according to established time periods and
procedures, the Forest Service should withhold all further advertisements”
of salvage sales under the rider effective at the close of business on
December 13, 1996. As a result, the Forest Service delayed an additional 27
sales with a volume of 29.7 million board feet. Appendix III shows, by
Forest Service region, the number of sales and associated volumes
affected.




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                              The salvage rider contained numerous provisions designed to help the
Selected Provisions of        Forest Service expedite the preparation and award of salvage sales, thus
the Salvage Rider Had         increasing the volume of salvage timber offered for sale. We examined the
Little Effect on              Forest Service’s implementation of and the effect of four of these
                              provisions dealing with the elimination of the appeals process, expedited
Timber Volumes                judicial review, preparation of combined environmental documents, and
                              use of retired Forest Service employees and contractors at four national
                              forests located in four different Forest Service regions. As discussed
                              below, however, we found that at each of the forests we visited, the four
                              provisions had little effect on expediting the sales or increasing the
                              volume of the salvage timber offered for sale.


Elimination of Appeals        The salvage rider exempted the salvage timber sales from the Forest
Had Little Effect Because     Service’s normal appeal regulations and exempted the salvage sales from
Salvage Sales Traditionally   the automatic 45-day stay during which an appeal could be filed after the
                              issuance of a decision by the Forest Service to offer timber for sale. Before
Experience Few Appeals        the salvage rider went into effect, the amount of time required for an
                              appeal to be filed and resolved could have delayed a timber sale by as
                              much as 105 days.

                              Exempting the salvage sales from appeal had little effect on the number of
                              sales or the actual volume of salvage timber offered for sale because few
                              salvage sales had been appealed in the past. For example, in fiscal year
                              1994, of the 3,699 salvage sales offered for sale nationwide, only 53, or
                              1.4 percent, were appealed.7, 8 Of the 47 salvage sales offered in fiscal year
                              1994 at the four forests we visited, only 5 sales were appealed. However,
                              according to Forest Service officials, the salvage sales offered under the
                              emergency program were more controversial than prior salvage sales and
                              therefore may have been appealed more frequently had the right to appeal
                              been permitted.

                              Of the five appealed salvage sales at the four forests we visited, the Forest
                              Service dismissed two—the first because the appeal did not contain the
                              proper information and the second because an emergency condition
                              existed and, as a result. the regional forester exempted it from appeal. Of
                              the three remaining appealed salvage sales, the appellants withdrew their


                              7
                              Fiscal year 1994 was the last complete fiscal year before the enactment of the salvage rider, and hence
                              was the last fiscal year that portrayed the conditions before the rider.
                              8
                               These figures do not include salvage permits. In fiscal year 1994, the Forest Service did not distinguish
                              between green and salvage permits; however, most permits, such as personal firewood permits, are for
                              relatively low volumes.



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                        appeal of two of the sales because the issues in the appeal were either
                        adequately covered or mitigated by the Forest Service subsequent to the
                        filing of the appeals. For the final appealed salvage sale, the Forest
                        Service’s reviewing officer affirmed the district ranger’s decision that this
                        sale conformed to the applicable laws and regulations and thus denied the
                        appeal.

                        Although our analysis indicated that the salvage rider provision exempting
                        salvage sales from appeal had little effect on the number of sales or the
                        volume of salvage timber offered for sale under the emergency salvage
                        program, officials from three of the four national forests we visited told us
                        that the provision should be made a permanent part of the Forest Service’s
                        policies and guidelines because it has the potential to expedite the efforts
                        at the national forests to offer salvage timber for sale after the expiration
                        of the salvage rider. For example, officials at the Clearwater National
                        Forest said that exempting salvage sales from appeal could speed up the
                        forest’s preparation for a salvage timber sale in two ways. First, the time
                        between making the decision to proceed with a salvage sale and offering
                        the sale would be reduced. Second, the salvage sale would not be
                        submitted to a rigorous appeals resolution process that requires that
                        national forest staff respond to comments, prepare transmittal letters,
                        coordinate with forest management, and meet with the appellant.

                        On the other hand, officials from three of the four national forests said
                        they found the appeals process to be beneficial to them in that it provided
                        them with a forum for resolving environmental issues, thereby reducing
                        the potential for legal challenges and costly delays in awarding the salvage
                        sales.


Few Legal Challenges    The salvage rider provided an expedited judicial review process for those
Made to Salvage Sales   salvage sales for which legal challenges were received. The provision
                        contained a number of elements for expediting the judicial review process,
                        including the following: (1) salvage sales shall be subject to review only in
                        the United States district court for the district in which the federal lands
                        are located, (2) any challenge to salvage sales must be filed in the district
                        court within 15 days after the date of the initial advertisement of the
                        challenged sale, and (3) the district court shall render its final decision
                        relative to any challenge within 45 days from the date that such challenge
                        is brought, unless the court determines that a longer period of time is
                        required to satisfy the requirement of the United States Constitution.




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                          Our review showed that the 45-day time limit provision of the expedited
                          judicial review process had minimal effect on the number of sales or
                          volume of salvage timber offered for sale under the emergency salvage
                          program because few legal challenges were brought against salvage sales
                          offered for sale in fiscal year 1996. Of the 11,435 salvage sales nationwide,
                          only 16, or 0.1 percent, had legal challenges. In 13 of the 16 challenges,
                          however, the court did not render its decision within the 45-day
                          requirement specified in the salvage rider.

                          The Department of Agriculture’s Office of General Counsel was unable to
                          provide us with the number of legal challenges attributable to salvage
                          sales for fiscal years 1994 or 1995 because its statistics for those years do
                          not distinguish between salvage and green sales; therefore, we were
                          unable to determine whether the number of law suits increased or
                          decreased. However, none of the four forests we visited had any legal
                          challenges in fiscal years 1994 or 1995, nor did three of the four forests
                          have legal challenges during fiscal year 1996. Of the 49 salvage sales
                          offered by the four forests in fiscal year 1996, only 4 sales had legal
                          challenges. Three of the four sales were at the Payette National Forest.
                          The remaining sale was on both the Payette and the Boise National Forest.
                          The Boise National Forest assumed the responsibility for resolving the
                          legal challenge on this sale.

                          The district court judge reviewing the legal challenges upheld the Forest
                          Service’s salvage sale decisions on each of the four salvage sales.
                          However, the judge exceeded the 45-day resolution period set forth in the
                          salvage rider for three of the challenges.


Environmental Documents   The salvage rider required that for each salvage sale, the national forests
Were Not Combined         shall prepare a document that combines an environmental assessment
                          required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the
                          biological evaluation required by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. This
                          provision was intended to reduce the amount of time needed to prepare
                          separate documents and thus expedite the preparation of salvage timber to
                          be offered for sale under the emergency salvage program. The rider also
                          allowed the Forest Service to use existing data prepared before the rider’s
                          enactment to avoid preparing new documentation.

                          None of the four national forests we visited prepared a single document
                          that combined the environmental assessment and biological evaluation.
                          However, the forests continued to prepare separate documents and then



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                         combined them with a staple or clip. Officials from the four national
                         forests said that preparing separate environmental assessments and
                         biological evaluations was more efficient because it required less work,
                         saved time, and resulted in less information to read and comprehend. In
                         addition, Payette National Forest officials said that by keeping the
                         environmental assessments and biological evaluations separate, they could
                         plan and prepare their salvage sales faster. In fact, officials from the Fish
                         and Wildlife Service, one of the regulatory agencies that assesses the
                         environmental impacts of salvage sales, told Payette National Forest
                         officials that they preferred separate documents. Forest Service officials
                         said that combining the two documents resulted in an excessive amount of
                         detailed information that was not needed for the decision-making
                         activities associated with national forest salvage sales.


Hiring of Former         The salvage rider provided that the Forest Service could (1) hire former
Employees Was Limited,   employees who had received a voluntary separation incentive (buyout)
and Some Private         without requiring the repayment of the incentive payment and (2) hire
                         private contractors to help expedite the sale of salvage timber. Since 1992,
Contractors Were Used    the Forest Service made a concerted effort to reduce its work force
                         because of the drastic reduction in the volume of green timber that was to
                         be offered for sale. As a result, a significant number of employees with the
                         skills needed to plan and prepare timber sales left the Forest Service.
                         Consequently, when the salvage rider was enacted, the Forest Service
                         needed people with the specialized skills to plan and prepare the
                         environmental documents and contracts for the sale, mark the salvage
                         timber to be sold, lay out the roads to the harvest sites, and administer the
                         sales contracts.

                         In a memorandum to the regional foresters, a headquarters official stated
                         that between 300 and 350 former staff who had the specialized skills to
                         plan and prepare salvage sales would be needed to implement the
                         emergency salvage program but that it would be unlikely to find contract
                         personnel with the required skills as quickly as needed. In response,
                         national forest officials identified the number of skilled people needed to
                         plan and prepare their salvage sales and surveyed retired Forest Service
                         employees to determine their interest in returning to Forest Service
                         employment. However, the response from retired employees was generally
                         negative because they did not want to return to work or had taken other
                         employment. Nationwide, only a total of 10 former employees were hired.




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                     At the four forests we visited, only one former employee was hired—at the
                     Stanislaus National Forest. Three of the four forests hired a total of seven
                     private contractors—four at the Stanislaus, two at the Clearwater, and one
                     at the Deschutes. The Forest Service did not have information on the
                     number of private contractors used to help plan, prepare, and offer the
                     salvage sales nationwide.

                     Officials from two of the three national forests that had hired private
                     contractors told us that the use of contractors helped their forests to
                     expedite the sale of salvage timber under the emergency salvage program.
                     The officials said that the use of contractors permitted Forest Service
                     employees to perform other duties and accomplish other tasks and that
                     the contractors filled skill positions for which the forests had limited
                     in-house expertise. According to these officials, the contractors performed
                     such tasks as preparing fuel treatment plans, marking and measuring
                     salvage timber sale units, and helping prepare environmental assessment
                     documents and cultural resource studies. Officials from the Stanislaus
                     National Forest were so pleased with the quality of work done by their
                     contractors that they planned to continue using private contractors to help
                     plan and prepare salvage sales after the salvage rider expired.


                     At three of the forests we visited, we reviewed 14 salvage sales for which
Forest Service Had   the Forest Service had received complaints from environmental
Adequate             organizations that the salvage sales contained excessive volumes of green
Documentation on     timber and therefore did not comply with the definition of salvage sales
                     under the salvage rider. These organizations were concerned that because
Salvage Sales to     of the definition’s breadth, the Forest Service had offered for sale large
Justify Decisions    volumes of green timber in some salvage sales.

                     According to the salvage rider and the Forest Service’s guidelines for
                     implementing the rider,9

                     “The term ’salvage timber sale’ means a timber sale for which an important
                     reason for entry includes the removal of disease- or insect-infested trees,
                     dead, damaged or down trees, or trees affected by fire or imminently
                     susceptible to fire or insect attack. Such term also includes the removal of

                     9
                      The definition of “salvage” used to implement the rider is different from the definition used by the
                     Forest Service in its manuals that existed before the salvage rider was enacted. The rider expanded the
                     Forest Service’s definition to include trees that are imminently susceptible to fire and imminently
                     susceptible to insect attack. According to the Department of Agriculture, some of the sales that met
                     the rider’s legislative definition did not meet the Forest Service Manual’s definition of salvage. The
                     Forest Service, however, revised the manual’s definition of salvage in February 1996 to include trees
                     that are imminently susceptible to insect attack.



                     Page 12                                       GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
                                  B-275987




                                  associated trees or trees lacking the characteristics of a healthy and viable
                                  ecosystem for the purpose of ecosystem improvement or rehabilitation,
                                  except that any such sale must include an identifiable salvage component
                                  of trees described in the first sentence.”

                                  The four forests we visited had established procedures for determining
                                  when timber sales qualified as salvage sales. The files for all 14 salvage
                                  sales that we reviewed contained documentation supporting the Forest
                                  Service’s conclusion that these sales met the definition. We also found that
                                  as a result of the Secretary of Agriculture’s July 1996 memorandum, 6 of
                                  the 14 salvage sales had been delayed until after the salvage rider expired.


Salvage Sale Criteria             In an August 1995 memorandum to the regional foresters, the Chief of the
Established at Forest Level       Forest Service stated that a salvage sale under the salvage rider was a
                                  timber sale in which at least a portion of the timber met the definition of
                                  salvage and was one of the important reasons for offering the salvage
                                  timber for sale. However, the Chief did not prescribe a specific percentage
                                  of the salvage volume compared to the total volume that would be needed
                                  to qualify a timber sale as a salvage sale. He left that decision to the
                                  professional judgment of those on the national forests to determine, on the
                                  basis of local conditions, such as those resulting from wildfires or insect
                                  infestation, what qualified as a salvage sale. Thus, the Chief encouraged
                                  each national forest to establish a systematic process to determine when a
                                  timber sale qualified as a salvage timber sale.

                                  Efforts to identify and document the portion of the timber qualifying as
                                  salvage, as well as to determine when a stand of timber was “imminently
                                  susceptible to fire or insect attack,” varied. However, we found that the
                                  four forests we visited had established the following procedures to help
                                  their ranger districts identify when a timber sale included an identifiable
                                  portion of salvage:

                              •   To ensure consistency at each ranger district, the Deschutes National
                                  Forest’s science team prepared a written definition, together with a set of
                                  procedures, to classify timber stands as imminently susceptible or not to
                                  insect attack and/or wildfire. The definition and procedures provided a
                                  basis for a consistent, forestwide interpretation.
                              •   The Payette National Forest, in conjunction with the Boise and Sawtooth
                                  National Forests, developed five criteria to determine what constituted a
                                  salvage timber sale. The three forests used the criteria—such as whether
                                  dead, diseased, or insect-infested trees are present within the project



                                  Page 13                            GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
                               B-275987




                               area—to determine whether a particular proposed timber sale qualified as
                               a salvage sale. To qualify, at least two of the five criteria had to be met.
                           •   The Stanislaus National Forest developed an incident activity plan to help
                               ranger districts determine when a timber sale qualified as a salvage sale.
                               The plan specified what timber qualified as salvage timber and provided
                               procedures to determine whether the timber stands were imminently
                               susceptible to fire or insect attack.
                           •   The Clearwater National Forest prepared a salvage implementation plan to
                               help ranger districts prepare and offer for sale salvage timber that fell
                               under the emergency salvage program. An interdisciplinary team in either
                               the forest supervisor’s or ranger district’s office reviewed and approved
                               each proposed salvage timber sale.


Salvage Sales With Large       Subsequent to the salvage rider’s implementation, several environmental
Green Volumes Complied         organizations identified 86 planned Forest Service timber sales which they
With the Definition of         believed should not have been offered as salvage sales under the
                               emergency salvage program. The environmental organizations were
Salvage Timber                 concerned that including excessive volumes of green timber in 46 of the 86
                               salvage sales would violate the Forest Service’s rules and environmental
                               laws and threaten watersheds, fisheries, and wildlife and recreational
                               opportunities.

                               Twenty-two of the 46 identified salvage sales were at three of the forests
                               we visited. None of the salvage sales under the emergency salvage
                               program on the Deschutes National Forest were identified as including
                               excessive volumes of green timber. We reviewed and analyzed the
                               contract files for 14 of the 22 sales to determine the reasons why the three
                               forests included green timber in the salvage sales and to verify that the
                               timber sales complied with the definition of salvage timber in the salvage
                               rider and the Forest Service’s guidelines. We did not review the remaining
                               eight salvage sales because the volume of timber or the number of acres
                               involved was very small.

                               The contract files for all of the 14 salvage sales contained sufficient
                               documentation to support the Forest Services’s conclusion that these sales
                               met the definition of a salvage sale in the salvage rider and the Forest
                               Service’s guidelines. Nevertheless, as a result of the Secretary of
                               Agriculture’s July 1996 memorandum, two of the forests delayed offering 6
                               of the 14 salvage sales that complied with the definition until after the
                               salvage rider expired. Specifically, the documentation for these salvage
                               sales showed the following:



                               Page 14                           GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
                      B-275987




                  •   The four salvage sales at the Clearwater National Forest complied with the
                      definition because the timber was either diseased, insect-infested,
                      damaged and downed, or imminently susceptible to fire and insect attack.
                      However, because of the more stringent criteria imposed by the
                      Secretary’s memorandum, the Clearwater National Forest delayed offering
                      the four salvage sales until after the salvage rider expired because
                      (1) three of the sales had initially been planned as green timber sales prior
                      to the salvage rider’s implementation and (2) in the fourth sale, the green
                      timber comprised over 25 percent of the offering.
                  •   The three salvage sales on the Payette National Forest complied with the
                      definition because the timber was either dead, affected by fire, or
                      imminently susceptible to fire and insect attack. None of these three
                      salvage sales were affected by the Secretary’s memorandum.
                  •   The seven salvage sales at the Stanislaus National Forest complied with
                      the definition because the timber was imminently susceptible to fire.
                      However, because of the Secretary’s memorandum, the Stanislaus delayed
                      offering two of the seven sales until after the salvage rider expired because
                      even though they were judged as being imminently susceptible to fire, the
                      sales were not located near local communities or occupied structures.


                      We provided a draft of this report to the Department of Agriculture for
Agency Comments       review and comment. In its response, the Department stated that our draft
                      report did not fully describe the key features of the legislation because the
                      rider not only expedited but also limited judicial review in that salvage
                      sales were exempt from environmental laws. While we recognize that the
                      rider limited judicial review in that the courts did not need to consider
                      traditional questions raised under environmental statutes, our report only
                      focused on identifying the number of legal challenges and determining
                      whether the court rendered its decision within the 45-day time frame
                      established by the salvage rider, and not on the overall implications of the
                      salvage rider on judicial review.

                      The Department also said that our draft did not reflect that the salvage
                      rider expanded the definition of salvage included in the Forest Service
                      manual. We clarified our statement regarding the differences between the
                      definition in the rider and that in the Forest Service manual. The
                      Department also felt, however, that our draft implied that the Secretary’s
                      memorandum narrowed the definition of salvage unnecessarily. Our report
                      does not draw this conclusion. Rather, our report reflects that the
                      memorandum provided revised direction for the program to ensure that




                      Page 15                            GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
              B-275987




              the sales prepared under the program met environmental standards and
              would withstand normal review and appeal.

              The Department said that our draft report claimed that its actions
              canceled or delayed significant volumes of salvage timber but did not
              provide an accounting of the specific disposition of the timber volumes
              affected by the memorandum. It was not our intent to imply that the
              memorandum summarily canceled timber salvage sales. We were merely
              demonstrating that the implementation of the memorandum affected a
              significant volume of timber that the Forest Service had planned to offer
              during the emergency period. As to the exact volume in each category, the
              Forest Service could not provide us with that information. Because this
              information is not available, we have deleted the word canceled and
              classified all affected sales as delayed sales.

              The full text of the Department’s comments and our responses are found
              in appendix IV.


              To obtain the information in this report, we reviewed the relevant laws
Scope and     and the Forest Service’s regulations, policies, and procedures related to
Methodology   the emergency salvage timber program; reviewed the pertinent contract
              files for the salvage sales from four national forests; and discussed the
              pertinent issues with the Department of Agriculture’s Office of General
              Counsel and the Forest Service’s headquarters and forest locations. A
              detailed description of our scope and methodology is found in appendix V.
              We conducted our review from June 1996 through January 1997 in
              accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.


              As we arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its
              contents earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 7 days
              after the date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies to the
              Secretary of Agriculture, the Chief of the Forest Service, and the Director,
              Office of Management and Budget. We will make copies available to others
              on request.




              Page 16                           GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
B-275987




If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please call me at
(206) 287-4810. Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix VI.

Sincerely yours,




James K. Meissner
Associate Director, Energy, Resources,
  and Science Issues




Page 17                           GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Contents



Letter                                                                                   1


Appendixes   Appendix I: Timber Volumes Offered, Fiscal Years 1977 Through              20
               1996
             Appendix II: Effect of the Secretary of Agriculture’s                      21
               July 2, 1996, Memorandum
             Appendix III: Effect of the December 13, 1996, Memorandum by               25
               the Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural
               Resources and Environment
             Appendix IV: Comments From the Department of Agriculture                   26
             Appendix V: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                             30
             Appendix VI: Major Contributors to This Report                             33

Tables       Table 1: Original Planned Target and Actual Salvage Timber                  5
               Volumes Offered in Fiscal Years 1995 and 1996 and the First
               Quarter of Fiscal 1997
             Table 2: Initial Target and Actual Salvage Timber Volumes                   5
               Offered in Fiscal Years 1995 and 1996 and the First Quarter of
               Fiscal 1997
             Table II.1: Number of Salvage Sales, Associated Volumes, and               22
               Reasons for Delay, by National Forest
             Table III.1: Salvage Volumes Deferred, by Region                           25




             Page 18                          GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Page 19   GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix I

Timber Volumes Offered, Fiscal Years 1977
Through 1996


               Volumes in millions of board feet
                                                                  Timber volume                Salvage as a percent
               Fiscal year                                  Green      Salvage         Total        of total volume
               1977a                                         9,845            762     10,607                   7.18
               1978                                          9,969           1,534    11,503                 13.34
               1979                                        10,771            1,662    12,433                 13.37
               1980                                        10,471            1,964    12,435                 15.79
               1981                                        11,017            1,142    12,159                   9.39
               1982                                          9,311           1,807    11,118                 16.25
               1983                                          9,882           1,401    11,283                 12.42
               1984                                        10,654            1,285    11,939                 10.76
               1985                                        10,574             962     11,536                   8.34
               1986                                        10,489            1,179    11,668                 10.10
               1987                                          9,357           2,118    11,475                 18.46
               1988                                          9,116           2,232    11,348                 19.67
               1989                                          8,744           1,771    10,515                 16.84
               1990                                          8,187           2,872    11,059                 25.97
               1991                                          4,471           1,709     6,180                 27.65
               1992                                          3,650           1,412     5,062                 27.89
               1993                                          2,649           1,906     4,555                 41.84
               1994                                          2,403           1,005     3,408                 29.49
               1995                                          2,155           1,852     4,007                 46.22
               1996                                          2,079           1,936     4,015                 48.22
               1997b                                           361            818      1,179                 69.38
               Total                                      156,155           33,329   189,484                 17.59
               a
               The National Forest Management Act was passed in 1976, and the first funding for salvage sales
               was in fiscal year 1977.
               b
                   Volumes are for the first quarter of fiscal year 1997.

               Source: U.S. Forest Service.




               Page 20                                            GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix II

Effect of the Secretary of Agriculture’s
July 2, 1996, Memorandum

                The Secretary of Agriculture’s July 2, 1996, memorandum to the Chief of
                the Forest Service provided a revised direction for the emergency salvage
                sales conducted under the salvage rider. The memorandum prescribed
                certain criteria that must be applied to all proposed sales for which bids
                had not yet been opened. Table II.1 shows the number of salvage sales, the
                associated volumes, and the criteria used by the Forest Service to delay
                the salvage sales until after the expiration of the rider. Following is a brief
                description of the criteria used by the Forest Service.

                Roadless—No salvage sales in inventoried roadless areas may go forward
                except those that qualify under the imminently-susceptible-to-fire criterion
                of the memorandum.

                Imminently Susceptible—This category includes both imminently
                susceptible to fire and imminently susceptible to insect attack. To quality
                as imminently susceptible to insect attack, trees must be located in areas
                that have a high risk of incurring insect attack and an anticipated change
                in stand structure or character in 3 years or less. To qualify as imminently
                susceptible to fire, trees must be located in areas with high fuel loading or
                where there is a high fire-risk rating for the specific habitat type, and near
                local communities or occupied structures.

                Excessive Green—According to the memorandum, if there are sales that
                have a component of associated green timber greater than 25 percent after
                applying the other conditions of the memorandum, the sales should be
                deferred.

                Not Originally a Salvage—Any sale or part thereof in preparation prior or
                subsequent to the enactment of the rider, which was identified to the
                public as a sale other than a salvage sale—including those sales that were
                withdrawn, such as for environmental reasons— may not go forward as a
                salvage sale under the rider unless the sale complies with the
                memorandum.

                Nonemergency Mistletoe Sales—Mistletoe sales should not be considered
                an emergency unless the mistletoe truly threatens to change the structure
                of the stand within 3 years.1




                1
                 This criterion was added by the Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources
                and Environment’s memorandum to the Chief of the Forest Service, dated October 18, 1996.



                Page 21                                      GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
                                          Appendix II
                                          Effect of the Secretary of Agriculture’s
                                          July 2, 1996, Memorandum




                                          Significant Public Concern—According to the memorandum, if there are
                                          sales for which significant public concern remains after applying the other
                                          conditions of the memorandum, the sales should be deferred.


Table II.1: Number of Salvage Sales, Associated Volumes, and Reasons for Delay, by National Forest
Board feet in millions
                                               Sale not
                                            imminently           Sale
                       Number      Sale in susceptible      contained     Sale not                             Significant
                            of   roadless     to insect     excessive originally a           Nonemergency          public
Region and forest        sales       area attack or fire green timber salvage sale            mistletoe sale     concern     Total
Northern Region
Beaverhead                  8          0.6            0.6                                                7.9                   9.1
Bitterroot                  6                                                                            3.7                   3.7
             a
Clearwater                  4                                         1.9            36.2                                     38.1
Flathead                    2                                                        11.2                                     11.2
Gallatin                    1                                                         4.5                                      4.5
Helena                      2          1.1                                                                                     1.1
Idaho Panhandle             6         15.0                            5.0             3.5                                     23.5
Kootenaib                  17         30.4            4.8            22.6                                                     57.8
Lewis and Clark             1                                                                            0.7                   0.7
Lolo                        2                         3.7                             2.2                                      5.9
Nez Perce                   5         13.0                            9.5            10.1                                     32.6
Total                      54         60.1            9.1            39.0            67.7               12.3           0.0   188.2
Rocky Mountain Region
Grand Mesa,
Uncompahgre,
Gunnisonc                   2          2.6                                            3.6                                      6.2
                    d
San Juan/ Rio Grande        0                                                                                                  0.0
Shoshone                    2                                         2.9                                                      2.9
             e
White River                 2                                                                                        10.0     10.0
Total                       6          2.6            0.0             2.9             3.6                0.0         10.0     19.1
Southwestern Region
Gila                        1          5.5                                                                                     5.5
Lincoln                    10                                                                            2.3                   2.3
Santa Fe                    1          2.0                                                                                     2.0
Total                      12          7.5            0.0             0.0             0.0                2.3           0.0     9.8
Intermountain Region
Ashleyf                    1.5         6.0                                                                                     6.0
Boise                       6         34.5           34.5                             5.0                4.6                  78.6
Bridger-Teton               3          2.0                                                                                     2.0
                                                                                                                       (continued)


                                          Page 22                                    GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
                                           Appendix II
                                           Effect of the Secretary of Agriculture’s
                                           July 2, 1996, Memorandum




Board feet in millions
                                                 Sale not
                                              imminently           Sale
                         Number      Sale in susceptible      contained     Sale not                            Significant
                              of   roadless     to insect     excessive originally a          Nonemergency          public
Region and forest          sales       area attack or fire green timber salvage sale           mistletoe sale     concern     Total
Caribou                       3         4.0                                                                                     4.0
Challis/Salmon               19         5.4            3.9                                                0.2                   9.5
Dixie                         1                        2.1                                                                      2.1
Manti-LaSal                   5        11.7                                                                                    11.7
Payetteg                     14        12.6           18.3                            30.2                                     61.1
Uinta                         2         3.2                                            0.6                                      3.8
                 f
Wasatch-Cache                2.5        5.0                                                               6.6                  11.6
Total                        57        84.4           58.7             0.0            35.9               11.4           0.0   190.4
Pacific Southwest Region
Eldorado                      4                        8.0                                                                      8.0
Klamath                       6        37.9            8.1                                                                     46.0
Lassen                        2                       12.5                                                                     12.5
Plumas                        5                       16.3                                                                     16.3
Sequoia                       5                       16.3                                                                     16.3
Sierra                        7                       13.6                                                                     13.6
Six Rivers                    6        10.8                                                                                    10.8
Stanislaus                    3                        4.8                                                                      4.8
Total                        38        48.7           79.6             0.0             0.0                0.0           0.0   128.3
Pacific Northwest Region
Colville                      1                                        9.0                                                      9.0
Malheur                      12        29.0           17.2                                                                     46.2
Ochoco                        1         1.5                                                                                     1.5
Okanogan                     10        19.3            8.0                                               11.8                  39.1
Siskiyou                      2                        5.5                                                                      5.5
Umatilla                      5         7.1                                                                                     7.1
Wallowa-Whitman               4                        8.8                                                                      8.8
             h
Wenatchee                     1        12.0                                                                                    12.0
Willamette                    2        13.0                            0.7                                                     13.7
Winema                        2                        8.2                                                                      8.2
Total                        40        81.9           47.7             9.7             0.0               11.8           0.0   151.1
Southern Region
NFs in Alabama                1                                        1.0                                                      1.0
Chattahoochee/
Oconee                        6         0.4                                                                                     0.4
                                                                                                                        (continued)




                                           Page 23                                    GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
                                           Appendix II
                                           Effect of the Secretary of Agriculture’s
                                           July 2, 1996, Memorandum




Board feet in millions
                                                 Sale not
                                              imminently           Sale
                         Number      Sale in susceptible      contained     Sale not                                         Significant
                              of   roadless     to insect     excessive originally a                  Nonemergency               public
Region and forest          sales       area attack or fire green timber salvage sale                   mistletoe sale          concern        Total
George Washington/
Jefferson                     2         0.2                                                                                                         0.2
          i
Ouachita                      0                                                                                                                     0.0
Total                         9         0.6                0.0              1.0              0.0                     0.0               0.0          1.6
Eastern Region
No forests affected.          0                                                                                                                     0.0
Alaska Region
Chugach                       4        10.3               10.3                                                                                    20.6
Tongass                       4        12.9                                                                                                       12.9
Total                         8        23.2               10.3              0.0              0.0                     0.0               0.0        33.5
              j
Grand total                 224       308.9             205.5              50.7            107.2                    37.8             10.0     722.0

                                           a
                                             Forest Service-wide statistics show three sales for 36.2 million board feet; however, forest-level
                                           records show four sales for 38.1 million board feet. We included the forest-level data.
                                           b
                                            This forest had an additional sale, involving 0.72 million board feet, that was originally
                                           designated as roadless areas and subsequently released. This sale was then exempted from the
                                           Secretary’s memorandum.
                                           c
                                             This forest had an additional two sales, involving 0.5 million board feet, that were originally
                                           designated as roadless areas and subsequently released. These sales were then exempted from
                                           the Secretary’s memorandum.
                                           d
                                            This forest had an additional two sales, involving 0.26 million board feet, that were originally
                                           designated as roadless areas and subsequently released. These sales were then exempted from
                                           the Secretary’s memorandum. This forest also had an additional sale involving 0.5 million board
                                           feet that was exempted from the Secretary’s memorandum and permitted to go forward.
                                           e
                                             This forest had an additional sale, involving 0.4 million board feet, that was originally designated
                                           as roadless areas and subsequently released. This sale was then exempted from the Secretary’s
                                           memorandum.
                                           f
                                               The Ashley and Wasatch-Cache National Forests shared one timber sale.
                                           g
                                            Forest Service-wide statistics show one sale for 1.3 million board feet; however, forest-level
                                           records show three sales for 1.5 million board feet. We included the forest-level data.
                                           h
                                             This forest had an additional sale involving 4.5 million board feet that was exempted from the
                                           Secretary’s memorandum and permitted to go forward.
                                           i
                                               This forest had an additional two sales, involving 0.65 million board feet, that were exempted from
                                              the Secretary’s memorandum and permitted to go forward.
                                           j
                                              In those instances where the Forest Service cited two or more criteria as reasons for delaying a
                                              sale, we allocated the respective volumes among each of the criteria cited.




                                              Page 24                                       GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix III

Effect of the December 13, 1996,
Memorandum by the Department of
Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural
Resources and Environment
Table III.1: Salvage Volumes Deferred,
by Region                                Board feet in millions
                                         Region                                         Number of sales                     Timber volume
                                         Northern                                                          1                                2.17
                                         Rocky Mountain                                                    6                                0.71
                                         Southwestern                                                      3                                8.00a
                                         Intermountain                                                     3                                14.5
                                         Pacific Southwest                                                 7                                2.88
                                         Pacific Northwest                                                 1                                0.70b
                                         Southern                                                          6                                0.71
                                         Eastern                                                           0                                0.00
                                         Alaska                                                            0                                0.00
                                         Total                                                           27                            29.67
                                         a
                                           One sale for 3.7 million board feet was waived from the requirement; however, the sale was not
                                         offered before December 31, 1996.
                                         b
                                          One sale for 13.38 million board feet was waived from the requirement and was offered before
                                         December 31, 1996.




                                         Page 25                                      GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix IV

Comments From the Department of
Agriculture

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




See comment 1.




See comment 2.


See comment 3.




                             Page 26   GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
                 Appendix IV
                 Comments From the Department of
                 Agriculture




See comment 4.




See comment 5.




See comment 6.




                 Page 27                           GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
               Appendix IV
               Comments From the Department of
               Agriculture




               1. We recognize that the salvage rider limited judicial review in that the
GAO Comments   courts did not need to consider the traditional questions raised under
               environmental statutes because under the salvage rider, the concerns of
               these statutes were deemed satisfied. Our report, however, focused only
               on identifying the number of legal challenges and whether the court
               rendered its decision within the 45-day time frame established by the
               salvage rider and not on the overall implications of the salvage rider on
               judicial review.

               2. As stated in the draft report, the Department of Agriculture’s Office of
               General Counsel’s data for fiscal years 1994 and 1995 on legal challenges
               did not differentiate between salvage or green timber issues. Therefore,
               neither we nor the Department’s Office of General Counsel could
               determine whether the number of legal challenges under the salvage rider
               has increased or decreased.

               3. We clarified our statement about the Forest Service’s guidelines for
               implementing the salvage rider to reflect that these guidelines differ from
               the Forest Service Manual’s definition of salvage.

               4. Our report drew no conclusions that the Secretary’s memorandum
               narrowed the definition of salvage unnecessarily. Rather, our report
               reflects that the Secretary’s memorandum provided revised direction for
               the emergency salvage sale program to ensure that sales prepared under
               the program (1) met environmental standards and (2) would withstand
               normal review and appeal. In addition, appendix II sets forth the revised
               criteria included in the Secretary’s memorandum and the number and
               volumes of sales affected.

               5. It was not our intent to imply that the Secretary’s memorandum
               summarily canceled timber salvage sales. We were merely demonstrating
               that the implementation of the memorandum affected a significant volume
               of timber that the Forest Service had planned to offer during the
               emergency period. As a result of the memorandum, some sales were
               delayed and some sales ultimately would be canceled because they would
               not be marketable or would not meet the definition of a salvage sale after
               the rider expired. As to the exact volume in each category, the Forest
               Service could not provide us with that information. Because this
               information is not available, we have deleted the word “canceled” and
               classified all affected sales as delayed sales.




               Page 28                           GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix IV
Comments From the Department of
Agriculture




6. Our report does not imply that all merchantable dead and dying timber
should be subject to salvage sales. Our report included a Forest Service
estimate of salvage timber that was capable of being harvested as
background information as to why the salvage rider was enacted. We did
say, however, that once a decision is reached to harvest salvage timber,
time is critical because the timber could deteriorate quickly, thus losing
economic value.




Page 29                           GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix V

Objectives, Scope, and Methodology


              The Chairman, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources,
              expressed concern over how well the salvage rider had worked because
              the Committee may consider either renewing the salvage rider, which
              expired on December 31, 1996, or including provisions of the rider in a
              proposed forest health bill.

              As agreed with the requester’s office, we (1) compared the volume of
              salvage timber offered by the Forest Service under the salvage rider from
              fiscal year 1995 through December 1996 with the volume that it had
              planned to offer for the same period prior to passage of the rider, and
              determined the effect of the Secretary of Agriculture’s July 2, 1996,
              memorandum, which placed more restrictions on salvage sales;
              (2) determined whether four specific provisions of the salvage rider
              helped the Forest Service to offer salvage timber for sale more timely; and
              (3) determined if certain salvage sales that were of concern to
              environmental organizations met the definition of salvage timber as
              specified in the salvage rider’s and Forest Service’s guidelines.

              To obtain the information in this report, we reviewed relevant Forest
              Service regulations, policies, and procedures related to the emergency
              salvage timber program. We reviewed and analyzed reports by the Forest
              Service, the Department of Agriculture, and 23 environmental
              organizations on various issues associated with the emergency salvage
              program. We also reviewed the Department of Agriculture’s first three
              reports to the Congress on the program as mandated in the salvage rider.
              We visited Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as
              four of the Forest Service’s national forests located in four different Forest
              Service regions—the Clearwater, in the Northern Region; the Payette, in
              the Intermountain Region; the Deschutes, in the Pacific Northwest Region;
              and the Stanislaus, in the Pacific Southwest Region. We visited these four
              national forests because they had large volumes of salvage timber to be
              offered for sale, were in different Forest Service regions, and had 22 of the
              46 salvage timber sales identified by environmental organizations as
              containing excessive volumes of green timber. We also made site visits to
              selected salvage sales in each of the three national forests.

              To compare the salvage timber volume programmed to be offered for sale
              before the salvage rider with the salvage volume offered for sale under the
              rider, we obtained data from Forest Service officials on the salvage volume
              they had programmed in the Forest Service’s appropriation requests for
              fiscal years 1995, 1996, and 1997. Because appropriation requests cover an
              entire fiscal year and the Forest Service does not develop quarterly



              Page 30                            GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix V
Objectives, Scope, and Methodology




estimates, we computed the estimated program volumes for the first
quarter of the fiscal year 1997 by taking one-fourth of the estimated
volume for the entire year. While Forest Service officials indicated that
actual first quarter results are normally less than 25 percent of the annual
results and thus our calculation may be overstated, we considered
25 percent a reasonable estimate because the Forest Service used
25 percent of the annual volume for planning purposes for the first quarter
of fiscal year 1997 under the rider. We compared the programmed volumes
to the actual salvage volumes offered by the Forest Service for the same
period. We also compared the actual salvage volume offered with the
target volume established by the Secretary of Agriculture at the inception
of the salvage rider. The Forest Service traditionally uses the term
“offered” to reflect those sales formally advertised for sale rather than the
definition in contract law that a timber sale is considered offered only
when the Forest Service receives bids on the advertised timber. The Forest
Service, in its required reports to the Congress under the rider, as well as
in its requests for appropriations, used the traditional definition of offered.
Therefore, because the Forest Service developed its initial targets using
this definition, it seems to be a reasonable measure of achievement under
the rider, and we are also using it throughout this report.

To determine the effect of the Secretary of Agriculture’s July 2, 1996,
memorandum, which revised the eligibility requirements for salvage sales
under the rider, we obtained and analyzed the Forest Service’s reports that
showed the number of sales, associated volumes, and reasons why the
sales were delayed until after the rider expired on December 31, 1996. We
also reviewed the effect of the Department of Agriculture’s Under
Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment’s December 13, 1996,
memorandum, which directed the Forest Service not to advertise any
salvage sales after December 13, 1996. To determine the effect of this
memorandum, we discussed it with Forest Service officials and obtained
Forest Service reports.

To determine whether four specific provisions of the salvage rider helped
the Forest Service offer salvage timber for sale more timely, we reviewed
and analyzed the contract files for each salvage timber sale offered for sale
in fiscal years 1994 and 1996 on the four national forests we visited. Fiscal
1994 was the last complete fiscal year prior to the salvage rider’s
enactment and hence the last fiscal year that would portray conditions
before the rider and fiscal year 1996—the only complete fiscal year during
the period in which the salvage rider was in effect and the only complete
fiscal year that would portray the conditions while the rider was in effect.



Page 31                              GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix V
Objectives, Scope, and Methodology




This comparison was used to provide insight into the effect of the various
provisions. In addition, we discussed the effects of the four provisions
with officials of the Forest Service’s headquarters and at each of the
national forests we visited. We obtained data from and discussed with the
Department of Agriculture’s Office of General Counsel the provision
dealing with expedited judicial review.

To determine if certain salvage timber sales met the definition of salvage
timber as specified in the salvage rider, we reviewed and analyzed the
Forest Service’s compilation of the complaints received from
environmental organizations alleging that the specific salvage sales
contained excessive green timber and thus did not meet the definition of
salvage as stated in the rider. Twenty-two of the sales were at three of the
four national forests we visited. We reviewed the contract files for 14 of
the 22 sales. We did not review the remaining eight salvage sales because
the volume of timber or the number of acres involved were minimal, such
as the low volume of timber in firewood sales. We also made site visits
with forest officials to 5 of the 14 salvage sales in order for the officials to
further explain and illustrate to us why the salvage sales contained green
timber.

We conducted our review from June 1996 through January 1997 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




Page 32                              GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
Appendix VI

Major Contributors to This Report


                     Robert B. Arthur
Energy, Resources,   Araceli C. Contreras
and Science Issues   Linda L. Harmon
                     John P. Murphy
                     Victor S. Rezendes




(140540)             Page 33                GAO/RCED-97-53 Emergency Salvage Sale Program
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