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Study: Forest Service Draft RPA Inflates Recreation, Slights Timber, Smith Tells Secretaries to Set the Record Straight

Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committe on Agriculture, today asked Secrataries Dan Glickman (Agriculture) and Bruce Babbitt (Interior), as well as Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, to set the record straight, as a new study shows that the forest service's draft RPA vastly overestimates the value of recreation and that timber management actually contributes the greatest amount to the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Under the Resources Planning and Rangeland Renewable Resources Act of 1974 (RPA), the Forest Service is required to periodically prepare a long-term strategic plan to guide its programs. The 1995 draft RPA program includes a socioeconomic analysis which concludes that recreation, fish, and wildlife programs contribute 32 times more income and jobs than does timber management, a figure Clinton Administration officials have used frequently in public statements. A study released today, however, concludes that the socioeconomic analysis is faulty, that recreation is biased upward in the draft RPA, and that timber still dominates the economic benefit of national forest activities, contributing 2.25 times the value of recreation.

"In my view, you should instruct the Forest Service to consider this new information and rework the socioeconomic analysis in the 1995 draft RPA Program. A revised analysis would likely support a change in the proposed Program which now emphasizes recreation to the exclusion of timber management," Smith wrote the Secretaries.

"Equally important is for the Administration to set the public record straight," wrote Smith, who is making forestry a principal area of inquiry for the Agriculture Committee in the 105th Congress. "Administration officials should not be claiming that Forest Service recreation programs have greater economic benefits than do its commodity activities. That is not to say that recreation does not carry important public benefits; of course it does. But there is no reason why we cannot enjoy the benefits of both activities."

The report, "Recreation or Timber: Which Brings More Economic Benefit?," was prepared by Con Schallau, PhD, Wilbur Maki, PhD, and William McKillop, PhD. The report concludes that the draft RPA used faulty estimates of recreation visits to national forests, thereby inflating the economic benefit of recreation. According to the study, timber management's economic contribution to GDP is 2.25 times greater than recreation, fish, and wildlife. Timber programs account for 53% of Forest Service contributions to GDP, compared with just 20% for recreation and 3% for fish and wildlife.

On Thursday, January 16, the full Committee on Agriculture will hold a hearing in Sunriver, Oregon on forest ecosystem health and the role of management in enhancing the forest resource.

Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district is home to 10 national forests.