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Know the West

Forest Service needs more budget, not just volunteers

  Michelle Burkhart points out that staff shortages in the national forests mean that citizens often step in to pick up the slack (HCN, 12/26/05: Where have all the rangers gone?). This is certainly true on Colorado’s Roosevelt National Forest ("co-managed" as one unit with the Arapaho National Forest and the Pawnee National Grassland, thus spreading staff even thinner). At the present, there isn’t a single person on the forest(s) whose primary job is responsibility for wilderness. Nor is anyone tagged as the forest trails coordinator. And it shows.

The Poudre Wilderness Volunteers have done an incredible job of keeping the Arapaho-Roosevelt backcountry from sliding into complete ruin.

This forest complex purportedly has the highest recreation-use figures of any national forest unit. Yet the forest, despite prodding and assistance from groups like the Poudre volunteers and the financial windfall from the recreation access tax, has steadfastly refused to scratch, bite and claw for adequate funding to manage the resources. That we have — at present — a consistently motivated group of citizens interested in keeping our public resources from being trashed is pretty wonderful.

But it’s a losing cause if, in the long run, the feds don’t cough up enough money to fund a professional presence, not just in the office (doing contract administration with some huge corporate concessionaire) but in the field.

Agency folks can fight for bigger budgets. But if they try rowing really hard against the tide, they will get trashed by the politicos at the regional and national headquarters and, of course, at the department level. So between bureaucratic inertia and some semblance of non-suicidal career care, not much pushing will occur at the forest level.

I know a few managers who’d love to have the public push back against the direction being taken in this region and nationally.

Woody Hesselbarth
Fort Collins, Colorado