Bark beetle funding

Posted 12/15/09

The money could also help keep local campgrounds open this summer, but “what the specific benefits are going to be to the Shoshone, we don't know yet,” said Susan Douglas, Shoshone National Forest spokeswoman on Wednesday.

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Bark beetle funding


{gallery}12_10_09/beetle{/gallery}A mountain pine beetle crawls out of a ponderosa pine tree while another (right) remains in its hole in Green Mountain Falls, Colo. Plenty of pine beetles are crawling around and burrowing beneath the bark of Wyoming pine trees, and the Wyoming Game and Fish wrote a report outlining the impacts to wildlife and possible strategies to protect fish and wildlife. AP file photo Amid complaints, Regional office receives additional $40 million, impact on Shoshone Forest unclearAn additional $40 million will head to the regional Forest Service office in Denver to help manage the infestation of bark beetles across millions of forest acres in the Rocky Mountain region.In announcing the funding on Tuesday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the funding would promote public safety and forest health.

The money could also help keep local campgrounds open this summer, but “what the specific benefits are going to be to the Shoshone, we don't know yet,” said Susan Douglas, Shoshone National Forest spokeswoman on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the Rocky Mountain regional office had proposed shifting funding from some of its forests to combat bark beetle kill in the Medicine Bow-Routt, Arapaho and Roosevelt and White River National Forests in northern Colorado and southeast Wyoming — the areas hardest hit by beetles.

As one part of the preliminary budget planning, the regional office in Denver directed forest managers to plan on closing all campgrounds not operated by a concessionaire to help siphon money to beetle operations.

The proposed fund-shifting and closures drew the concern of congressional representatives in affected states.

Six senators from Western states, including Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyo, submitted a letter to Vilsack on Nov. 23, requesting additional funding for the Rocky Mountain Region's bark beetle management.

They called the infestation a “national emergency” that merited special funding.

“Routine Forest Service activities, resources and personnel should not be limited in order to shift funds and focus to the bark beetle infested areas of the region,” they wrote, citing the economic impacts of shifting funds away.

Representative Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo, and three other Western legislators had drafted a similar letter in the U.S. House.

In a statement, all three members of Wyoming's Congressional delegation called the $40 million a good “first step” in combatting beetle kill.

“The funds are a necessary first step to combat the dire situation some of our forests are facing at the same time it allows forest managers to continuewith day to day management of services like campground access,” said Enzi.

“The epidemic is devastating our forests, and it creates a wildfire threat to public land users, communities and homeowners. I'm pleased Secretary Vilsack responded to our concerns,” Barrasso said.

Lummis called for continued work in crafting “targeted but aggressive mitigation and prevention efforts” on the beetle problem.

The $40 million which comes from redirecting national funding and $5 million of stimulus cash, would be used to clear dead or dying trees that pose a human safety threat, such as those near powerlines, roads, and campgrounds — primarily in the Medicine Bow-Routt, Arapaho and Roosevelt, and White River National Forests, said regional Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin on Wednesday.

Some 2.5 million acres in those forests are estimated to be infected with beetles.

The regional office had previously estimated that emergency work in those forests would cost $49 million — a hefty chunk of a roughly $120 million annual regional budget that covers 17 national forests and seven grasslands.

With the cash infusion, Segin said that the amount of money needed to be re-directed from other forests in the region “isn't going to be as great as it would have been,” but said it was too early to say how other forests like the Shoshone would be impacted.

Regional forest supervisors, including Shoshone Supervisor Becky Aus, were meeting in Denver on Wednesday to discuss the new funding.

On Tuesday, Park County commissioners drafted a letter to Vilsack, Regional Forester Rick Cables, Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Wyoming's Congressional delegation stressing the importance of keeping campgrounds open.

“Our communities rely on economic opportunities these forests provide,” the letter read in part, noting the affordability of camping as a family activity.

Mike Harker, the owner of Arrowhead RV in Powell, asked county commissioners to oppose the proposed closure at their Tuesday meeting.

“This is another example of government intrusion into the rights of its citizens,” said Harker, who said he was speaking on behalf of himself, his business and other concerned businesses and individuals.

Harker said the federal government seems “to enjoy managing to find a way to keep these people shut out.”

He compared the proposed closure to the National Park Service's former plans to close Yellowstone's East Entrance to winter travel.

“I can't believe that they can justify not opening our campgrounds because of budget concerns,” said Gene Schrader of Cody, adding, “I'm here to say there's a lot of people out there who are willing to volunteer.”

“Camping is one of the most affordable forms of recreation in these difficult times,” said Harker. He suggested that the Shoshone Forest Supervisor's salary should be cut rather than closing campgrounds.

Commissioner Tim French agreed that the situation was “unacceptable,” but “I think that direction (to close campgrounds) came from Rick Cables' office,” and not the Shoshone office, he said.

Wapiti District Ranger Terry Root told commissioners that staff at the Shoshone fully concur that closure is unacceptable.

“That is what (feedback) we sent back to the regional office,” he said.

In most national forests, the bulk of the campgrounds are run by a concessionaire. However, in the Shoshone, just five of the 32 camp sites are concessionaire-operated, and those are located near Dubois and Lander.

“I don't believe that when the regional office sent this out that they understood the impacts to the Shoshone National Forest,” Root said.

“We're considering anything and everything under the sun to at least keep the basic services there,” said Douglas, Shoshone spokeswoman, on Wednesday. Those options include eliminating services like garbage disposal and drinking water or seeking volunteer help.

“We are committed to finding ways to provide basic services in recreation areas, and that means ensuring the public has access to campgrounds,” said Becky Aus, forest supervisor, in a news release issued on Tuesday.

The Shoshone also has hundreds of thousands of dollars in a trust fund, generated by recreation fees.

“We've asked (the regional office) to be able to use that to operate the campgrounds,” Douglas said.

Some of the Shoshone's campgrounds do make a small amount of money, but overall, Douglas said they cost money to run. Using rough figures, she said it costs around $200,000 a year to run the 17 campgrounds and other visitor services such as picnic areas in the Shoshone's northern half; user fees bring in only around $130,000. She added that the planned removal of hazardous beetle- and fungus-damaged trees around campsites will bring an additional cost this coming season.

Beetles have affected some 600,000 acres in the Shosone's 1.3 million forested acres, and fungi have created problems as well. A fungus caused a tree to collapse on an empty tent in a Dubois campground this summer.

Root noted on Tuesday that not all campers are local folks, and he said the status of the campgrounds needs to be resolved soon so out-of-state visitors can make their spring and summer vacation plans.

He also encouraged Park County commissioners to write the letter to the regional office and higher-ups in Washington.

“I think it's very important for the regional office to understand the implications of this decision,” Root said, adding that sometimes those in federal positions “lose sight of us.”

Wyoming Game and Fish objectives and strategies

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department compiled a report concerning the impact mountain pine beetles have to hunting and fishing and outlined objectives and strategies (see related story).

• Form partnerships with land management agencies and volunteer groups to ensure wildlife issues are addressed.

• Pursue early involvement in planning treatments for beetle-killed trees to ensure aquatic issues are addressed.

• Allow staff extra time to work on beetle-related issues.

• Realize agencies may prioritize campgrounds, access roads and power line rights-of-way for timber removal.

• Shift treatment from already impacted areas to focus on other habitat or tree species.

• Assess significant changes in fish habitat carrying capacity.

• Reevaluate fish population objectives.

• Identify and monitor areas at risk of non-native fish invasions.

• Identify affected roads, trails and campgrounds.

• Encourage appropriate National Environmental Policy Act processes in timber removal to maintain recreation areas.

• Pursue potential funding, including a Game and Fish trust fund, grants from the forest service, a grant from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, grants form the Wyoming Business Council and grants from the National Resources Conservation Service.