CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Some national forests in Wyoming are trimming their budgets, including possible campground closures, as the regional U.S. Forest Service office diverts funds to bark beetle projects.
The initial budget for the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region calls for redirecting funds to areas hit hardest by the beetle epidemic in Colorado's Routt, Arapaho, Roosevelt and White River national forests and in Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest.
The Rocky Mountain Region put aside $49 million in its fiscal year 2010 budget to tackle the beetle-kill "emergency situation," said Cheryl Chatham, acting director of external affairs.
"Our main concern has been the health and safety of the employees and the public," Chatham said. "We're finding a lot more of the dead trees are beginning to fall and it's created quite a concern for us in regard to powerline right of ways, roads, trail access, recreation areas, things of that nature."
While the budget covers fixed costs, including permanent employees, it's also putting a crimp on other national forests in the region, which covers parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The budget for the Shoshone National Forest in northwest Wyoming would drop from about $14 million to $12 million under the change, forest supervisor Becky Aus said. She said that includes the possibility of closing 32 campgrounds.
"We don't have a full analysis yet of what all of the implications would be," she said.
The prospect of closing the vast majority of the forest's campgrounds concerns the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, an environmental group.
"If people can't go camping and recreate on the national forest, they're not going to really value those lands and they don't really care," said Hilary Eisen, a Cody-based public lands advocate for the coalition. "If it does nothing for them, then they're not going to care if it gets funding or not."
Bighorn National Forest supervisor Bill Bass said his budget of $6 million is down $500,000 from last year. He said the biggest impact will be on construction, maintenance and seasonal employees. The cuts could also result in campground closures in the Bighorn, as well as decreased services at visitor centers, he said.
Chatham said the region has submitted its initial budget to the Forest Service in Washington, D.C, and is awaiting word on the final budget in December. Regional officials have made the case for more funding for beetle projects, she said.
"In our response to the (initial allocation), we did make our Washington office aware of the fact that we do have this emergency, that it is of the magnitude of a health and safety concern, as well as the possibility for catastrophic wildfires," she said.