Photos provided by various partners on public lands across the US.
The Forest Service manages 154 National Forests across the country, home to some of the best places to backcountry ski, snowshoe, cross country ski, and play in the snow. But as the popularity of outdoor recreation and use of public lands increases, funding for the Forest Service and other land management agencies has not kept up.
Since the 1990’s, the Forest Service has had its funding and staff reduced across nearly all programs. For instance, there are now half as many trail crew and forestry technicians than there were in 1992, even as visitation has increased by more than 800,000 visits a year.
With half as many staff and twice as much responsibility to visitors, National Forests have been struggling. Public lands suffer from maintenance issues, increased litter, illegal parking and more, but Forest Service staff are also burned out and demoralized, causing longer-term problems for the agency.
What Can We Do?
There is a solution! The Forest Service, as well as other agencies, need robust funding to protect the places we love to play and ensure they are sustained for generations to come. Winter Wildlands Alliance, The Mountaineers, and Outdoor Alliance recently delivered reports to the Biden administration and to Congress asking them for bold investments in the Forest Service. Here are our five biggest takeaways for why a investment in our National Forests is more important than ever:
Demand for recreation is continuing to grow
The pandemic has amplified a trend that’s been going on for the last decade – more and more people are getting outside and enjoying recreating on public lands. Everybody who wants to enjoy public lands should be able to do so, but Forest Service recreation infrastructure is crumbling under increased use and decreased maintenance. The Forest Service needs funding to ensure it can carefully manage increased use, protect cherished natural resources, and steward our National Forests so people can continue to enjoy them.
National Forests play a role in climate solutions
Public lands must be a part of addressing climate change, and National Forests, which store huge amounts of carbon, are critical for addressing the climate crisis. The Forest Service needs funding to address climate impacts like wildfires, water supply, and wildlife issues. In addition, the Forest Service needs more resources to write management plans that strategically protect lands to mitigate climate issues and identify which lands are suitable for renewable energy development, so that we can balance the country’s energy needs with biodiversity, recreation, and conservation priorities.
Everyone deserves access to public lands
Everyone in America should be able to access and enjoy public lands. Many people do not feel safe or welcome on public lands today because of a long history of disenfranchisement, prejudice, and outright danger. Indeed, research shows that the Forest Service is failing to serve the full spectrum of the American public, fostering inequity across the National Forest system. The Forest Service needs funding to improve permitting, which enables facilitated access to National Forests; to protect cultural resources; and for creating more accessible trails and picnic areas.
Supporting rural economies
Rural communities have struggled since the recession with population loss, job loss, and economic distress. Further exacerbating these struggles, the extractive industries that once drove rural economies are on the decline. Research has shown, however, that places with more access to public lands and to outdoor recreation have greater wealth and faster-growing wages, particularly in rural communities. Outdoor recreation is booming, but the Forest Service is unable to keep up with demand and ensure that it is well-managed and sustainable. The Forest Service needs additional resources so it can adapt and grow in order to respond to a changing American economy.
The Forest Service has far fewer staff than it did thirty years ago, making it difficult for the agency to keep up with maintenance, increased recreation demand, and the ecological stressors of our changing climate. Chronic underfunding has made it challenging for the agency to work with community organizations to steward forests and manage volunteers. More funding for the Forest Service would allow the agency to hire adequate staff to meet these needs. The Forest Service needs workers at every level, from seasonal positions to career-level hires, and Forest Service jobs provide good pay and benefits. More funding means more jobs, more economic opportunities for people and communities, and more capacity for the agency.
Where YOU Come In
You can read our full report here. As the administration and Congress prepare their budgets for the Forest Service and other public land management agencies this year, they need your input.
We’ve made it easy to write a letter, using the form below or at the button, to send to your members of Congress and to the administration asking them to prioritize full, robust funding for the Forest Service to ensure it can meet the needs of America’s people.
*A version of this post also appears on the Outdoor Alliance blog.