The Forest Service and Recreation- A Cinderella Story?
Last week, one asked “why is there such a push to get FS recreation or heritage facilities moved to the Park Service?” “It seems to be a pattern, and what underlies that?” Here are my thoughts in response to that question. I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.
First, there are actually three patterns. One is “place based legislation divvying up areas for uses” that we have discussed on this blog, and Martin has done some fine work. The second is “Wilderness legislation” which also takes pieces of land and makes specific prescriptions. Here is a letter posted today that talks about what that feels like to a local outfitter. The third is “transfer to the Park Service” which also takes pieces of land and gives them certain kinds of management (usually recreation/visitor oriented).
Second, in some discussions on the planning rule I have gotten the impression that somehow the FS doesn’t take recreation as seriously as we might- which could lead to the idea that facilities will be better handled and budgeted for by the Park Service. When we have brought up the recreation interests of various stakeholders, sometimes the discussion goes to “we can’t treat it differently than the other multiple uses” or “we are handling that through social science.” If I were a recreationist and heard that, I would feel, to some extent, like I was being blown off.
Recreation is not just another multiple use. Recreation is something that all the people of the US can do on our federal land. We all don’t have grazing allotments, or houses that need fuelbreaks near them, let alone dams, or gas wells, or pipelines or powerlines, but we all can visit and enjoy the national forests. On every forest I’ve ever worked on, from hunting and fishing to hiking to skiing, recreation has been a key use of the national forests. Recreation is different. It is where most of the owners of the national forests interact with the land and the employees. It could easily be considered (with water) a preeminent use. It actually is a preeminent use, but for some reason it seems to be hard for the FS to admit and organizationally get behind.
Is it because many FS employees come from a vegetation background? Is it because the recreation users tend to be in conflict with each other rather than having a united front for getting funding (say, compared to State Foresters)? Is it an artifact of an internal stovepiping? What do we think we’ll have as a #1 priority for most of the landscape in 20 years? 50 years?
As I’ve said before, the number of dispersed campers on weekends in the summer in Colorado and during elk season from New Mexico to Idaho is staggering and probably uncounted. There is an important niche for recreation that is more open to more uses than in National Parks (dogs on trails, dispersed camping, OHVs). What do you think is missing for the FS to give recreation the emphasis it deserves? Or do you agree that it is not “just another multiple use?