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Report Says Logging Down, Profits Up

National forests in Montana and North Idaho cut less timber last year but made almost twice as much profit from it, the U.S. Forest Service says.

The annual cost-and-benefit report, released Friday, credits the Northern Region forests with a $26.7 million profit in fiscal 1994, up from $13.6 million in 1993.

The report showed timber harvests of 561 million board feet producing gross income of $117.9 million.

Conservationists have long dismissed the annual accounting as a ruse designed to cover up below-cost timber sales. The Forest Service defends the report as a fair assessment.

One dispute is whether profits should include the agency’s required payments to timber counties, which totaled $27.1 million in 1994. Without them, the region would show a loss of $1.1 million for the year.

Timber-producing counties in the region - Montana, North Idaho and a tiny slice of Washington and the Dakotas - received $4.4 million more from the Forest Service in fiscal 1994 than in the year preceding. Law requires the agency to pay the counties 25 percent of its timber income as partial reimbursement for property taxes lost to large acreages of public forest.

The 1994 report reflects the increased value of timber, declining public timber harvests, declining timber employment and increased efforts to bring timber-program costs in line with revenues.

Five of the region’s national forests made money on timber sales last fiscal year: the Idaho Panhandle, Clearwater, Kootenai, Lolo and Nez Perce.

In Montana, the Kootenai showed a gain of $13.9 million, the Lolo a gain of $9 million.

The biggest loss, $2.78 million, was recorded on the Flathead National Forest in Montana. The report claimed more than $57 million of future benefits in timber, wildlife, recreation and range resulting from its fiscal ‘94 timber harvests. That figure, however, is one that conservationists dispute most strongly.

Nationally, the Forest Service reported a harvest of 4.8 billion board feet of timber and a profit of $214 million in the year past.

xxxx SOME OTHER HIGHLIGHTS Northern Region national forests provided 109 million board feet of salvage sales, 34,555 Christmas trees and more than 26 million board feet of firewood, enough to heat 10,600 homes. Forest Service timber sales supported about 19,450 jobs in Montana and North Idaho, by the agency’s accounting. That’s down from 20,910 jobs in 1993, but income was reported up by $7.25 million. Total miles of new or rebuilt roads on Northern Region forests were 240 in fiscal 1994, compared with 598 miles in fiscal 1993.