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GA 1:13: RCED-91-53

ates General Accounting Office

Report to Congressional Requesters

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This report, prepared in response to your April 26, 1989, request and subsequent meetings with your office, is a follow-on to our April 24, 1990, Statement for the Record, GAO Observations on Timber Harvesting and Forest Development Needs on Indian Reservations (GAO/T-RCED-90-71).

The report recommends that the Congress discontinue basing funding for forest development on the 1977 backlog and instead base funding on annual determinations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the most important and highest priority forest development needs.

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of the Interior; the Director, Office of Management and Budget; other congressional offices; and other interested parties. This report was prepared under the direction of James Duffus III, Director, Natural Resources Management Issues, who may be reached on (202) 275-7756 if you have any questions. Other major contributors are listed in appendix II.

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Executive Summary


The Secretary of the Interior, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is responsible for managing over 5.7 million acres of commercial Indian timberland primarily located on 107 reservations. The sale of timber from these lands is a significant source of income to the tribes—averaging about $77.1 million annually for fiscal years 1988 and 1989.

The Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs asked GAO to determine, among other things, (1) the extent to which timber harvest goals on commercial Indian timberland are being achieved and (2) the progress being made in accomplishing needed forest development, including reforestation and timber stand improvement.


The objectives of the Bureau's forestry program include developing, maintaining, and enhancing commercial timberland to support a desired level of annual timber harvesting that can be sustained indefinitely; carrying out a timber sales program that is supported by written tribal objectives and a long-range forest management plan; and preserving a

a forest in its natural state whenever the Indian owners decide that preservation is the best use of the land.

In a 1975 report on Indian natural resources,' GAO identified opportuni-
ties for increasing timber harvests and made a number of recommenda-
tions to increase forest productivity. In 1977 and 1978, respectively, the
Congress began providing special funding to (1) significantly increase
forestry program staffing to support increased timber production and
(2) complete a large backlog of forest development needs. Both were
intended to help the Bureau attain an annual allowable cut, that is, the
average annual harvest volume that can be sustained over time at a
given intensity of management on commercial Indian timberland.

Results in Brief

When Gao's 1975 report was issued, the Bureau's goal for commercial timberland on reservations was to maximize the economic benefits to the tribes by harvesting timber at the highest possible volume consistent with sustained yield. That same year the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act called for an orderly transition from federal domination of programs for, and services to, Indians to effective and meaningful participation by the Indian people in planning, conducting, and administering these programs and services. Consistent with this

'Indian Natural Resources—Opportunities for Improved Management and Increased Productivity Part 1: Forest Land, Rangeland, and Cropland, GAO (RED-76-8, Aug. 18, 1975).

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