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

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-04-24.

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

                       ’ United States General Accounting Office     /cr/B9
.   GAO                 Testimony


    For Release          GAG Observations  on Timber Harvesting
    on Delivery          and Forest Development  Needs on Indian
    Expected at
    9:30 a.m. EDT        Reservations
    April   24, 1990

                         Statement    for the Record by
                         James Duffus III,        Director,
                         Natural    Resources Management Issues
                         Resources,     Community, and Economic
                         Development     Division

                        Before       the
                        Select       Committee on Indian   Affairs
                        United       States Senate

                       (14a=53       I
                                 /                                     GAO     Form 160 02/87)
Dear Mr. Chairman,                  Mr. Vice-Chairman,             and Members of the Committee:

           We are pleased            to provide        this     statement       for     the record     on the
results          to date of our ongoing work addressing                              the Bureau of Indian
Affairs'          (BIA)      forestry       program.          Our work is updating            a 1975
rep0rt.l             At that        time,       BIA was pursuing           a goal of maximizing
timber          production         on Indian       timber      lands,      as represented       by BIA's
official          estimate         of Annual Allowable             Cut (MC),           but was only
harvesting           about 78 percent              of the AAC of 1 billion                board feet.
We also reported,                  among other       things,       that     important      forest
development           work was not being done.

           Our current         work indicates           that,      as a result          of greater     tribal
influence          in shaping           the Indian      forestry          program,

           --    some reservations               are pursuing       harvesting          goals that     are
                 below BIAIs         official       AAC;

           --    some tribal         harvesting        policies         and practices       produce     less
                 volume and contribute               to shortfalls           in meeting       harvesting
                 goals,      and

           -- harvesting            is more compatible             with     tribal      preferences     for
                 the use of the land.

lIndian Natural Resources--Opportunities      For Improved Management
And Increased Productivity      Part I:    Forest Land, Ranueland, and
CliYoplanr! (GAO/RED-76-8, Au;. 18, 1975).
Concerning        forest       development        work,         about one-half          of the acreage
estimated       in 1977 as needing               forest         development        work (referred           to
as the 1977 backlog)                remains undone.               However, because of problems
in inventory        identification              and recordkeeping,                we believe       it     is no
longer      appropriate         to continue        using         the 1977 backlog             as the basis
for   providing      dedicated          funding      for        forest     development.          First,      the
estimated      backlog        was less than complete                     and did not adequately
define      the acres and type of work that                        was needed.              Second, the
reporting      of accomplishments                against         the backlog         is inconsistent.
And third,      the inventory            reported         in 1977 is now outdated                 and is
not a good indicator                of current      forest         development          needs.

         Our statement          is based on work performed                      to date at five
Indian      reservations--Menominee                in Wisconsin,               Yakima and Colville               in
Washington,       and Fort          Apache and San Carlos                  in Arizona.          In fiscal
year 1989, these tribes                accounted          for     38 percent        of the timber
harvested      under BIA's           forestry      program and 35 percent                    of the total
commercial      timberland           acreage on Indian               forest      lands.


         Between 1975 and 1989, BIA's                     annual harvest            volume has
averaged about 72 percent                 of the official                MC,     with     individual
annual harvests            ranging     from 51 percent              to 88 percent.             However,
because greater            tribal     influence         in defining            individual

reservation           goals has changed the emphasis of the forestry
program,       BIAls         official         MC may not reflect             each resewationvs
current      harvesting              goals.       Thus comparisons           of annual harvests                 to
BIA's     official        AAC are misleading                   as an indicator         of whether
harvests      are meeting               goals.          Two of the reservations            we visited
were using           goals      that     differed         significantly         from BIA's      official
MC,     as indicated             below.

        -- The Colville                 reservation's           most recently         approved      forest
            management plan was approved                             in 1961 and contains           BIA's
             official          AAC for         Colville        of 120 million         board feet.
            However, with                BIA agency office              agreement,      the Colville
             reservation               has for      several      years been using          a goal of 80
            million           board feet.               For fiscal      years      1988 and 1989,
             Colville          has harvested              111 percent       and 89 percent          of this
            revised           goal.

        -- Fort        Apache's          current         approved plan       for     1981 to 1990
            contains           an official              MC of 97.2 million           board feet.
            However,           for      1988 and 1989, the reservation                    has been
            harvesting               against      a lower goal of 67.6 million                  board feet
            which,        according            to BIA agency and tribal                officials,       more
            closely           reflects         tribal      preferences.          During these        2 years
            the reservation                   harvested        90 percent       and 110 percent            of
            this        lower goal.

          Two of the other            three      reservations            we visited--Yakima                 and
Menominee --use            BIAls     official        MC as their              harvesting          goals.      Over
the past         5 years their          actual       harvests       have averaged about 67
percent        and 65 percent           of their        respective            goals.        The fifth
reservation,            San Carlos,         has a small          forestry        program and has not
harvested            any timber      since      1981.        However, the reservation                      plans    to
harvest        its     entire     lo-year       goal of 29.5 million                   board feet          (2.95
million        a year for         10 years)       during        the last        2 years          of its     current
plan,        which runs through              1991.

          According        to BIA and tribal                representatives,              actual     annual
harvests        overall         have not reached goals                  for    a variety          of reasons.
These reasons             include     national        or local          conditions          such as poor
markets,        as well         as circumstances             specific         to an individual
reservation,            such as

          -- the occurrence            of fire       or disease,

          -- the ability            of the reservation's                 forestry         program staff            to
              prepare       and complete          sales       adequate to meet the goal,                      and

        --    inefficiencies           in the actual            harvesting             effort.

        At the reservations                 we visited,         tribal        practices          were a
recurring        significant          factor     limiting         the amount of timber

harvested         in a given year or during                  individual           sales.       Examples
cited      by BIA and tribal            officials         include       tribal      decisions         on

         -- the use or extent              of clearcutting;

         -- the cutting          of trees        near streams,           roads,       and wildlife

         -- the use of workers              other        than tribal        members or BIA staff:

         -- the kinds       of trees        that     can or cannot be cut:                    or

         -- the application             of other         restrictions            on cutting        within
             prescribed         sales    areas.

Because of such policy              changes or unexpected                   requirements,            less
timber     may be harvested             durinu      a qiven        sale than had been planned,
so that      over the course of the year annual harvest                               volumes can be
significantly          reduced.

         Tribal     decisions      such as these can be made by tribal                              councils
whose membership can differ                  from those of councils                    serving       when
harvest      goals    are developed          or when specific               sales      are initially
planned.          This situation         occurs because membership in tribal
councils      can change yearly,             while        forest    management plans                usually


    cover a lo-year            period       and individual             timber   sales     can take as long
    as 4 or 5 years to prepare                   before        actual     harvest.


             In our 1975 report              we concluded that              forest     development         work,
    such as reforestation                  and thinning,          which is important             in
    maintaining           and enhancing commercial                    timberland      productivity,         was
    not being done.2                Subsequently,         BIA identified             a backlog        of forest
    development           work on about 1 million                 acres of commercial             Indian
    forest      land as of 1977.              The Congress then authorized                      special
    funding      to complete          the reported            backlog     of forest       development

             From fiscal           years    1977 through          1989, the Congress
    appropriated           about $81 million          in special            funding     to reduce the
    backlog.        This special            funding   proqram is the only dedicated
    funding      for      forest     development      on Indian           forest      lands.      The use of
    other      forestry       program funds for               forest     development       activities        is
    discretionary,           with     the decisions            left     to the tribes          or BIA Agency
    offices.        According         to BIA, as of the end of fiscal                      year 1989,
    about      one-half       of the reported         backlog           work had been accomplished.

    2Forest development involves reforestation    and timber stand
    improvement activities   applied to a forest to establish   and raise                                          a
    stand of trees to commercial size and value.     It also entails
    repeating the process in perpetuity   under the principle   of
    sustained-yield   management.
        Our ongoing work indicates                               that     the original          backlog       estimate
of about 1 million           acres was highly                            speculative.           At the five
reservations         we visited,               there        were indications              that       the original
1977 backlog         was not accurate.                           For example,        Colvillels             reported
backlog     was based on *fobservations@V made in 1962.                                            And when two
other     reservations--Fort                   Apache and San Carlos--subsequently                                  re-
evaluated      their     forest      development                        needs, they concluded                that    their
reported     backlog      was not a good measure of the forest                                        development
work needed.

        Moreover,      although           BIA reports                   that    about one-half              of the 1977
backlog     work has been accomplished,                                 progress     in completing             the
reported     backlog      is uncertain                     for     the following          reasons.

        -- Because the reported                       backlog             of individual            reservations           was
            not always adequately                          defined         in terms of specific                acres
            and treatments,               it        is difficult               to measure the completion
            of forest      development                     work against            the reported             backlog.

        -- Reservations           differ             significantly               in how they measure and
            report     the accomplishment                          of backlog        work.          Two
            reservations       --Menominee and Colville--report                                      backlog        work
            as accomplished               only        if     the work is paid                for     with     special
            backlog     funds.            The development                      work on acreage reported                    as
            part     of the backlog                  is not treated                as a backlog
  u         accomplishment           if        it     is paid for with                  other       funds.      Until

             1985, Fort Apache was reporting                               all     its         forest      development
             work on backlog             acreage as accomplishments                                  regardless          of
             how it      was funded.           In 1985, it                 changed to reporting                         as
             backlog         accomplishments           only work that                     special          funding            had
             paid     for.      Conversely,          Yakima counted                      all      forest
             development         work on its           reported             backlog             as
             accomplishments             even though a lot                       of the work was paid                         for
             with    other      funds.      As a result,                   Yakima reported                  that        its
             1977 backlog         was completed                in fiscal            year 1988 and has
             received        no special        backlog              funding        since         then.

Furthermore,         some reservations               indicated              that         other         forest
development         needs that      were either                inadvertently                    left     out of the
1977 backlog         or which have since                  occurred               may be more important
than some remaining              backlog       work.           All     of the reservations                         we
visited      have identified             or are aware of forest                           development              needs
beyond any undone 1977 backlog                       work.

          On the basis        of our findings                 to date,            we believe             using      the
1977 backlog         as the basis          for providing                   dedicated             forest
development         funding      is no longer             appropriate.

                                           -     -        -     -      -

          In summary, much has changed in the intervening                                               years      since we
issued      our 1975 report         on maximizing                   timber         production              on Indian

forest    lands and since         BIA identified            its   1977 backlog   of forest
development       work.       Greater      emphasis is now being given           in timber
harvesting       to satisfying          tribal     preferences      rather   than to
maximizing       production.       Also,         the passage of time has made BIA's
previously       identified      backlog         outdated    and not representative      of
current      forest   development          needs.