Forest Budgets, Recreation and the Need for a Recreation-Oriented Service First

Not surprisingly, FS budgets are down, and there are impacts, including to recreation.

Here’s one from the White River. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is probably an 8 in terms of information..
This is from the Aspen Times here. I think it would be interesting to have this much information on each forest.

As funding stands now, the White River will lose “somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million” in funding compared with last year, Fitzwilliams said. The funding for 19 national forests is decided by the Rocky Mountain Region headquarters in Lakewood.

Some decisions still are being made in the regional office that could affect the White River’s final budget for 2013, Fitzwilliams said. For example, some of the funds budgeted for the forests in the region weren’t spent in 2012, so there is a chance some of that will carry over to the 2013 budget. In addition, national forests across the country took funds out of programs to contribute to fire-fighting efforts last summer. Some of those funds also may be replaced.

The White River National Forest’s budget varies drastically from year to year. It had a $28.57 million total budget in 2010 with a huge caveat. About $10.6 million of that, 37 percent, was allocated specifically for projects to deal with bark-beetle destruction. Last year’s budget was about $22 million, Fitzwilliams said.

this is not counting sequestration, and

The major portion of the funds raised at the Maroon Bells will remain intact. The funds there are collected and spent under a program separate from the general operating budget.

“That’s fee money and that’s pretty sacred,” Fitzwilliams said.

Congress passed legislation that allows the Forest Service to charge a fee at areas that meet certain criteria. Those funds must be spent in the area where they are collected.

The Forest Service has collected between $100,000 and $200,000 each summer from visitors to the Maroon Bells Recreation Area since the fee was started in 2000. The agency charges $10 per vehicle and 50 cents on each bus ticket. Travel for personal vehicles is limited, so the buses take tens of thousands of visitors to the popular Maroon Lake. Fitzwilliams called the fee a “lifesaver” in a 2011 interview.

This story is at the other end of the budget in terms of what campgrounds are closed and the impacts to the environment (people aren’t going to stop “using the facilities” just because there are no facilities..and to other recreation-providing entities.

Here’s the link and below is an excerpt:

Pecos business operators are livid that the U.S. Forest Service has closed a campground, locked day-use toilets and taken away trash cans from popular recreation sites in the Pecos Canyon.

A Santa Fe National Forest spokesman says the problem is lack of funds to maintain the recreation sites.

The impact on the Pecos sites may be only the beginning. According to an initial fiscal year 2013 budget memo for the Santa Fe National Forest, recreational funding is trending down. The agency’s recreational budget was cut by about 8 percent — $166,000 — from the 2012 budget. “Without adequate funding to support program areas, the forest must set priorities as to which sites will open, and conversely which will remain closed,” the memo states.

Pecos residents say the agency shouldn’t make the Pecos Canyon low priority on the recreation funding list.

The Pecos Business Association and the Upper Pecos Watershed Association sent a letter Monday to New Mexico’s Congressional and state lawmakers and Gov. Susana Martinez about the closed recreation sites. The letter says their members met in mid-March with Pecos/Las Vegas District Ranger Steve Romero, who told them funds in the recreation budget were “insufficient to maintain services at existing recreation areas and that ‘potential’ closure of eight day-use areas, four campgrounds and one trailhead is planned for the new fiscal year.”

But the toilets already are locked and trash cans are gone from free day-use areas at Upper and Lower Dalton, Windy Bridge, Cowles Ponds and the Winsor trailhead, according to Huie Ley, owner of the Tererro General Store in the canyon. The Cowles and Links Tract campgrounds also are closed.

Finally, our friends in Southern California think “if there’s no budget, give it to the Park Service!” as we’ve discussed before..

Hmm.. if it works for the Angeles, why not the San Bernardino? Here..

NATIONAL FORESTS: Park Service offers a hand in the Angeles

Federal officials are proposing that the National Park Service help the U.S. Forest Service manage the very busy Angeles National Forest, which encompasses most of the San Gabriel Mountains stretching from the Cajon Pass to Los Angeles.

“Under the proposal, the region essentially would remain national forest land managed by the cash-strapped Forest Service. But it would draw upon the National Park Service for additional law enforcement, signage, trail maintenance and services such as trash pickup,” according to a story in the Los Angeles Times by Louis Sahagun.

Interestingly, Sahagun’s story said that more than 95 percent of public comments on the plan supported the idea of creating a National Recreation Area spanning the entire area, including the national forest land.

The San Bernardino National Forest suffers many of the same pressures as the Angeles, from vandalism and other crime to air pollution to illegal shooting and off-roading. Would the National Park Service be able to solve those problems? It will be interesting to watch what happens in our neighboring forest

Well potentially the FS and Park Service could work together to share resources in this tough budget climate but some think.. story here.

The only way the two federal agencies can work together in the Angeles is through an obscure program called Service First Authority. The NPS said this is one way to move some NPS park rangers into the heavily used Angeles Forest areas such as the East and West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

But Chu criticized this management proposal. “That is an unknown,” she said. “I don’t know if that has ever been used on a project of this scale. Visitors need – and deserve – additional resources in the San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed, and I intend to do my part to ensure that happens. ”

She will be hosting townhall meetings to allow the public to ask questions of the NPS, as well as roundtables with stakeholder groups, she said. No dates have been set for the additional meetings.

It doesn’t seem like an “obscure authority” to me, having seen it work with BLM extremely well in southern Colorado. I wonder if that is the journalist’s opinion, or the representative’s opinion. I don’t blame any representatives for doing their best to bring bucks to their forest, but discounting Service First out of hand does not seem fair either.

It makes sense for agencies to work together.. I am especially reminded since yesterday was tax day. If I were the new Interior Secretary, I would reinvigorate Service First in a serious way with the Forest Service, because giving pieces to the Park Service so they get more bucks depending on political clout doesn’t seem like good public administration.

Of course, if I were the Secretary I would ask them to stop doing studies and figure something out that minimized the need for political intervention and take the study money and give it to Mesa Verde for some decent fencing.

4 thoughts on “Forest Budgets, Recreation and the Need for a Recreation-Oriented Service First”

  1. Ah, Congresswoman Judy Chu might push as hard as she likes but she and we know that the GOP controls the purse strings and there will be no additional money to the Angeles whether it is a National Forest, a Service-First collaborative project, or a NPS-run NRA. Here is a good overview of the current proposal: http://www.kcet.org/living/travel/socal_wanderer/national-park/national-park-service-proposes-expanded-unit-of-the-santa-monica-mountains.html

    Char Miller, Director
    Environmental Analysis Program
    W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis
    Pomona College
    char.miller@pomona.edu
    909-607-8343
    Blog: Golden Green
    MAIL:
    Environmental Analysis Program
    Pomona College
    185 E. Sixth St. – Rm 232
    Claremont CA 91711-7003

    Reply
  2. Char.. it’s very frustating.. we spend mega bucks analyzing the potential impacts of following BMPs in a timber sale or fuels treatment project, but people are p__ping all around streams and some of our regular litigator environmental groups are MIA.

    I think we all agree the world would be a better place with decent facilities that let people enjoy the outdoors and also protect the environment. Yet this one thing probably all of us can agree on ( at least the people on this blog, unless I’m missing something) can’t get funded?

    Reply
  3. I recently read a story by Jack Ward Thomas where he proposed charging user fees for Recreation on NF’s. Providing they stay on the forests and not go into the rat hole of the Fed treasury. Any thoughts on that? The states charge to use state parks. The National Parks charge to use Yellowstone ($28 last I looked). I’ve heard the argument that such fees would “keep the poor from using the national forests.” Well then, I guess the poor can’t use Yellowstone. Isn’t it time we stop the below cost subsidy to Rec? How to collect such user fees would be problematic.

    That brings up the question…does the fees collected at individual forest campgrounds…”stay” on the forest. If so, how close does that revenue come to paying for the upkeep of said campgrounds.

    As a bit of an aside…the USFS went on a campground building binge in the 60’s. I was looking at a “historic” map from the mid 60’s awhile back, and there must have been a third MORE campgrounds then there are now. And you better get to the ones still open on friday afternoon if you want a site. A few years ago we went camping at one of those campgrounds. First time in decades (me and my buddies eschewed campgrounds when we camped in order not to offend people with our excessive drinking-which explained my great releif at seeing nothing but “gray hair” when we did our first drive through. LOL). I’ll tell you it was great! Reminded me of bein a kid in the 60’s. By Sunday our neighbors were our friends. Still a great experience.

    Reply
    • Derek, with all due respect, where have you been for the last 16 years? You are describing the Fee Demo program that went into effect in 1997 and was replaced in 2005 by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. The FS has had fee-retention authority for all that time. The result has been that fees have spread far beyond those for camping in developed campgrounds. We now have fees for trailhead parking and trail use, river and lake access, dispersed camping, scenic overlooks, and general access to huge swaths of undeveloped public land, including designated Wilderness, on both USFS and BLM. Many of these fees are not in compliance with the law, resulting in litigation and the expenses associated with that.

      Meanwhile the directly-retained revenue has not made a dent in maintenance backlogs or much in the way of on the ground improvements. Instead most of the revenue goes to administration and enforcement of the fees. The recently released study proposing joint management of the San Gabriel watershed by the Angeles NF and the NPS says it well:

      “The Angeles NF does receive revenue from a variety of forest programs and users, especially use fees collected under the Recreation Enhancement Act (the Adventure Pass). This source of funding has become increasingly important, as it can be used for a wider range of purposes than reimbursable revenue, and has helped to supplement appropriated funds. However, the cost of enforcing and administering this program is almost equal to the revenue.”

      Fee-based funding for recreation (outside of developed sites) is an idea that has been tried and failed.

      Reply

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