“A Colorado resort area comes to the aid of a cash-strapped national forest”

The Washington Post recently ran this story:

A Colorado resort area comes to the aid of a cash-strapped national forest


“The visitor boom — while great for the local economy — is putting a strain on the public lands that are the reason people vacation, day-trip and retire to the Vail Valley. The cash-strapped U.S. Forest Service isn’t equipped to handle the more than 12 million people who come to the 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest each year.

“So Vail and other Eagle County governments are planning to set aside as much as $120,000 to pay for Forest Service employees to monitor trails and campgrounds and to enforce backcountry rules next summer.”

FWIW, the book I edited, 193 Million Acres: Toward a Healthier and More Resilient US Forest Service (recently published by the Society of American Foresters) includes two essays that address the problem, including one by our own Sharon Friedman:

“Wild and Free: Diverse Dispersed Recreation as the Forest Service’s Main Mission,” by Sharon Friedman

“Implementing Sustainable Recreation on the National Forest System: Aligning the Reality and Promise,” by Steven Selin

In addition, I suggest a potential solution in my introduction — excerpt below….

The book is on sale on the SAF web site, www.eforester.org/store (although it isn’t yet listed in SAF’s online store, you can find it by searching for “193 Million Acres”). Proceeds (if there are any after paying production costs), go to support SAF, a non-profit organization.



Excerpt from the introduction to 193 Million Acres:

Selin calls on Congress and the Forest Service to “provide a strategic, focused, financial investment” in the agency’s recreation program. The Forest Service’s Framework for Sustainable Recreation (FSR), released in 2010, did not include such an investment. “It is high time the agency did so now,” wrote Selin. It seems unlikely that Congress will provide sufficient funding for this kind of investment in recreation or for addressing other elements of the backlog Thompson mentions. Perhaps an increase in the agency’s ability to be creative and flexible is in order.

For example, a national forest with a large backlog of deferred recreation facility maintenance, given the freedom to develop a solution on its own, might use stewardship contracting of the sort Tholen and others write about. In forest-health projects, a stewardship contractor typically thins an overcrowded stand and uses some of the proceeds from selling the merchantable timber to pay for the removal of small trees and brush that have little or no value, or for other ecological restoration services. The emphasis is on ecological: projects that are not primarily intended to restore or improve ecological conditions or functions aren’t allowed. According to the Forest Service handbook, “construction of developed campgrounds” and “maintenance of non-haul roads not causing water quality degradation”—roads not primarily intended for transporting harvested timber—are not appropriate stewardship contracting activities.

What if every national forest had the freedom to develop a long-term stewardship or service contract under which an amount of timber is harvested each year to pay for some or all of the recreation and/or other infrastructure construction and maintenance planned for the following year, even if such work has no significant environmental benefit? Revenues might be deposited in a recreation or infrastructure maintenance fund; any surplus funds would be carried over to the following year, saved for a rainy day (including the effects of a flood after a particularly rainy day), or spent on other recreation- or transportation-related projects, such building a new campground or fixing potholes. Advice on such expenditures could be sought from the forest’s resource advisory committee (RAC), and RAC recommendations would carry a great deal of weight. Donations to such funds might come from corporations, nonprofit groups, and individuals; in her essay, Friedman suggests something similar in a discussion the importance of “friends of the forest” groups.

7 thoughts on ““A Colorado resort area comes to the aid of a cash-strapped national forest””

  1. There’s some merit to reinvesting revenues in the land that produces them. I am concerned about how that might create incentives to sell trees, so “projects that are not primarily intended to restore or improve ecological conditions or functions aren’t allowed” is an important proviso. But what does “primarily” mean? Would this allow revenue-raising to creep into the equation? I am strongly opposed to a “bake sale” approach to raising operating funds using timber sales.

    Also, what role do forest plans play in this strategy; could they lead to a bake sale approach? Below is some language from the draft Helena-Lewis and Clark forest plan revision EIS. It shows how focusing on financial incentives could pervert the reasoning used to make forest plan decisions, including suggesting that fish are always better off because of logging (which could create a problem with disclosing effects under NEPA).

    “With the direction and emphasis in the Forest Plan, watershed restoration may tend to be prioritized and directed by more commodity-based resource decisions, such as restoration associated with timber harvest activities and integrated vegetation restoration projects” (p. 41).
    “Alternative E would result in the highest volume of timber production and therefore have the potential to generate more money from timber receipts for restoration projects for watershed and fisheries. If more money is available from alternative E then there would be more short-term impacts from restoration projects but there would be more long-term gains” (p. 71).

    • I hear you, Jon, but how is the vital work of the agency to be funded, if Congress fails to do so? That was my point: Congress cannot be counted on to provide adequate funding, so national forests ought to have more flexibility to find other sources. Involving RACs would help to prevent the excessive use of revenue from timber or other sources.

      Note this, from the article:

      “We’re having to take money that we should have been using to pave streets and using it to help the federal government hire an employee,” Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet said.

  2. Communities like Vail profit from national forests and it is in their interest to help maintain them. They could even tax their visitors as a source of revenue to do that (easier than making users pay the Forest Service directly). This is a lot different from selling federal assets (with environmental impacts) to pay for it.

  3. I would hope for some correlation between how popular a place is and how much money is needed, though I realize that entropy is eventually a problem anywhere regardless of the use level.

    In theory Congress pays for what the public asks for. Ex-chief Dale Bosworth was quoted today as saying: “The Forest Service really needs to figure out a way to step up with recreation … That’s the biggest thing after fire. That’s how people see the Forest Service and their public lands.” If that is true, then the Forest Service ought to be asking Congress for what they need to manage recreation, and the public ought to be lobbying Congress to give it to them. And that is where there would be a role for “friends of the forest” (and the recreation industry).

  4. In the past, Congress has taken a somewhat dim view of the Forest Service doing things to finance itself, so it will be interesting to see how that has/might change with these types of things. I remember being told in the past that we needed to do timber sales to meet the land management objectives, not explicitly to collect funds for ourselves. But I’ve seen that line disappear and soften greatly in the last 20 years. The excerpt from that Forest Plan is troubling to me. Especially since the FS now has only 2 “flagship targets” – timber volume sold and fuels acres treated to reduce wildfire hazard. There is no guarantee that timber sale receipts will be used to fund specific work. And, in some regions, certain types of receipts are diverted preferentially to prepare timber sales, as timber sale targets are increasing and funding from Congress is not.

    • I would have thought that if Congress sets targets, the targets would go with the requisite amount of $ to accomplish them? (sorry, I’ve never been much of a Federal Budget follower even though I know that “budget is the true indicator of policy” or whatever that quote is…).


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