Forest Carbon Coalition – Science Synthesis

Does logging on federal forestlands make economic sense for taxpayers?

The data suggest that logging federal forests generates far more costs than benefits. Logging on federal lands occurs primarily on national forests managed by the US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management lands in several western states. In recent, pre-pandemic years this logging consumed taxpayer-financed subsidies of about $2.0 billion per year. That is, the agencies’ costs to prepare and manage the timber sales, and then clean-up the environmental mess, exceeded the receipts they received from the timber companies by about $2 billion. This subsidy translates into about $3,000 per log truckload.

The financial subsidies tell only part of the story. Detailed data, for logging on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in western Oregon, illustrates several different types of costs logging imposes on taxpayers and society as a whole:

Total timber-sale revenues:

Timber-sale costs:

Recreation costs to Oregonians and visitors:

Costs from logging that jeopardizes habitat for sensitive species:

Costs from reduction in streamflow, especially in summer:

Costs from reduction in water quality of streamflow:

Costs from climate-related damage:

Revenue percent of costs:

$6,400/acre logged

–$5,200/acre logged

–$3,200/acre logged

$22,400/acre logged

–$800/acre logged

–$500/acre logged

–$26,400/acre logged


The full set of costs is even greater. For example, research shows that logging on federal lands reduces the value of nearby private lands. Research also shows that, across the contiguous states and for all land ownerships—not just federal lands—logging imposes costs on society that exceed the value of the logs.

Key research on the economics of the federal logging program:

Cavender-Bares, J.M., Nelson, E., Meireles, J.E., et al., 2022. The Hidden Value of Trees: Quantifying the Ecosystem Services of Tree Lineages and Their Major Threats across the Contiguous US. PLOS Sustainability and Transformation.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pstr.0000010.

Key excerpts:

  • “Trees provide critical contributions to human well-being. They sequester and store green-house gasses, filter air pollutants, provide wood, food, and other products, among other benefits.”
  • “We find that the value of five key ecosystem services with adequate data generated by US trees is $114 billion per annum (low: $85 B; high: $137 B; 2010 USD).”
  • “ … we find that…[t]he non-market value of trees from carbon storage and air pollution removal far exceed their commercial value from wood products and food crops.”

Niemi, E., 2016. Below-Cost Timber Sales on Federal and State Lands in Oregon: An Update. NRE Working Paper 16-04. Eugene, OR: Natural Resource Economics.

Link: https://nreconomics.com/reports/2016-07-28_16-04_OR_Below-Cost.pdf.

Key excerpts:

  • “The sale of timber from federal and state lands in western Oregon declined in the 1990s in large part because of resistance to below-cost timber sales, in which sale revenues didn’t cover the costs that logging imposed directly on taxpayers and indirectly on non-timber sectors of the economy.”
  • “ Using peer-reviewed research and data recently developed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), this study shows that today’s below-cost timber sales are far more severe than those of the 1990s.”
  • “Logging that jeopardizes habitat for sensitive species generates costs at least 3.5 times the value of the timber.”

Talberth, J. and E. Niemi. 2019. Environmentally Harmful Subsidies in the U.S.: Issue #1 – The Federal Logging Program. Portland, OR: Center for Sustainable Economy and Natural Resource Economics.

Link: https://sustainable-economy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/CSE-Federal-logging-report-May-2019.pdf.

Key excerpts:

  • “[These lands play a unique ecological role because they represent islands in a sea of heavily damaged lands managed by states and private landowners. …”.
  • “One of the key justifications for ending the logging program on national forests is so they can serve as a buttress against the extinction threat posed by industrial tree plantations. “.
  • “Because of their unique role and limited suitability, logging on national forestlands is uneconomical.”
  • “Our analysis finds that the logging program on national forests continues to lose money for taxpayers in the range of $1.3 to $1.5 billion per year.”
  • When additional federal logging subsidies related to fire suppression and BLM losses are included, the total exceeds $1.8 billion per year.