The newsletter of AMERICAN TRAILS -- NEW YEARS 1998

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USFS budget not commensurate with economic impacts

By Gary Sprung, High Country Citizens Alliance; Crested Butte, Colorado

The Clinton Administration has recognized the immense value of recreation on our national forests. But an examination of the budget of the USDA Forest Service, approved by Congress for Fiscal Year 1997, shows that recognition is not yet matched with budget allocations. Old priorities continue to dominate.

The agency, as well as the Administration, note that national forest lands accommodate 43 percent of the recreational use of the federal estate, more than any other agency, system or organization in the United States. This demand is forecast to increase 50 percent by the middle of the next century.

By the year 2000, a scant 24 months from now, economists project that USDA Forest Service programs will contribute $130.7 billion to the gross domestic product; 74.8 percent of that will come from recreation. That economic activity will generate 3.3 million jobs; 77.7 percent of them associated with recreation.

The Forest Service budget for recreation was $281 million in FY 1997. That compares to $1,275 million appropriated to run the national forests' regular operations, and $3,480 million in full agency funding, which includes programs such as research, wildfire management, and facilities construction. So recreation constitutes just 21 percent of the regular operations spending, and a mere 7.6 percent of the overall spending.

In sum, a small fraction of the USDA Forest Service spending&emdash;on recreation&emdash; generates the bulk of the economic benefits to America.

Also noteworthy: fish and wildlife are the second most important contributors of economic activity. They are projected to provide 10 percent of the jobs and money. Compare that to timber, which will contribute in the year 2000 2.7 percent of the GDP and 2.3 percent of the jobs generated by Forest Service programs. Range will yield 0.7 percent of dollars and 5.2 percent of jobs. Minerals, a capital intensive business, will produce 7.8 percent of the economic contributions and 0.7 percent of the jobs.

These economic rankings stand roughly opposite to the political clout and respect accorded by the Congress.