The government spent $1 billion more to log national forests over the last three years than the timber sales netted for the federal Treasury, congressional auditors said Monday.
The Forest Service has reported logging profits for each of the three years, including a $214-million gain for 1994, and agency officials stuck to that Monday, saying it was wrong to conclude from the audit that logging operations are costing taxpayers money.
A substantial portion of the income--nearly $900 million for the period--went to several states as their federally mandated share of the timber receipts, most of it dedicated to county roads and schools in the West. And the Forest Service estimates that jobs created by the logging brought millions of dollars into the Treasury.
The agency, in its accounting, does not consider the state payments to be a cost of the timber sale program.
Overall, the Forest Service spent $1.3 billion preparing and administering the logging and returned $303 million to the Treasury, the General Accounting Office said.
The service actually collected about $3 billion for timber sold from the 118 national forests, the audit said. But 90%, about $2.7 billion, went to specific accounts, including reforestation, road-building and erosion control tied to the logging--as well as the money off the top for states.