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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2011

Logging losses

Ohio's budget crisis demands that state government do business more cost-effectively. Any program that is designed to raise revenue, but winds up costing more than it collects, is a prime target for elimination.

That's the situation, Ohio environmental groups credibly argue, with timber sales in state forests. Changing the rules that govern those sales, they assert, would not only protect the environment better but also save taxpayers money.

A new report commissioned by the Ohio Environmental Council, the Buckeye Forest Council, and the Sierra Club concludes that the state is losing money on its agreements with logging companies that cut down trees in state forests. Over the nine years which the groups reviewed state forestry operations, they argue, state officials underestimated logging costs and thus forced taxpayers to subsidize the program.

By law, proceeds from timber sales in state forests are divided among the state forestry division and local and county governments and school districts near the affected forests. In every year except one between 1999 and 2008, the report says, the fees from logging companies fell short.

Taxpayer subsidies had to make up the remaining costs, most likely diverting money from the state general revenue fund, researchers say. State officials dispute the report's conclusions but have not produced hard numbers to counter them.

If logging fees don't cover the state's costs for such things as equipment maintenance and road and bridge upgrades to accommodate private logging companies, another approach needs to be considered.

Why keep wasting taxpayer money on an outmoded, money-losing timber harvest program when a new focus on biological services and increased recreational opportunities in state forests might actually pay off?

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