The last chance to weigh in on proposed changes to the San Juan National Forest is between now and March 21 as the Forest Service looks to offset a nearly 50 percent decline in its recreational budget over the past decade.
The San Juan National Forest, with 1.8 million acres covering 10 Colorado counties, maintains 129 recreational sites, including trailheads, restrooms and interpretative signs.
But over the years, Congress, attempting to trim the federal budget, has allocated less money to the U.S. Forest Service, which means local agencies must look for ways to cut operational costs. The rising cost of fighting wildfires also is a major consumer of the Forest Service’s budget, thereby limiting local resources.
Recently, the San Juan National Forest reduced its full-time workforce from 18 to 11 employees, and cut the visitor information program by 30 percent. For the past two years, the Forest Service has considered new fees, campsite closures and the decommissioning of restrooms.
The proposed changes will save the Forest Service 30 percent in operational costs (cleaning, salaries), 17 percent in maintenance costs (backlog of work projects) and 4 percent in annual maintenance costs (painting, repairs). For example, the Forest Service had accumulated an estimated $3.9 million in deferred maintenance costs – repairs it couldn’t afford to make. But by closing some facilities in need of repair, the deferred maintenance costs are reduced to about $3.2 million.
Throughout the drafting of the proposed plan, the Forest Service has continually reached out to locally elected officials from municipalities within the San Juan National Forest, as well as members of the community.
The period for the last round of public feedback ends March 21. Afterward, Forest Service officials will tweak the plan as needed, and finalize it this spring.
“When you do good public feedback work you do it multiple times, you don’t do it just once,” said Brian White, San Juan National Forest’s program manager for recreation, wilderness and trails.
Among the more notable changes in the draft: Lower Hermosa Campground will be converted from a dispersed camping area to a fee campground; access to Little Molas Camping Area will be limited to mid-June through fall color viewing, and one toilet will be removed; partial decommissioning of South Mineral Camping area; and removing the toilet from Coal Bank Interpretative Site.
Public feedback should be mailed to White at 15 Burnett Court, Durango, CO 81301, or sent via email to email@example.com.
This story has been updated to correct a budget trimming example. The Forest Service has reduced deferred maintenance costs.