Bighorn National Forest funding decreasing at an alarming rate, nonprofit says

(Sheridan, Wyo.) ― The Bighorn National Forest is facing a funding crisis, according to the Council for the Bighorn Range . The Forest needs $1.2 million to operate in fiscal year 2016-17, and will likely only receive around a projected $900,000 from the National Forest Service Region 2 USDA-FS office based in Golden, CO. Rob Davidson gave a presentation for the public Thursday evening on what the council would describe as "funding being disproportionately reduced in this region," versus funding for other national forest land in Region 2 — namely, in Colorado. "This is a very special place to us," Davidson said. "This is a fragile place. ... Success to us is simply getting equity." According to data gathered by both publicly available information and FOIA requests, Davidson says Region 2 USDA-FS says "the Bighorn National Forest receives their share of funding" based on a 2014 model using acres of forest land, total forest visits, special use permits, developed recreation sites, wilderness areas, heritage assets, environmental and other social, economic, and performance based factors. "We disagree," Davidson says. WYDOT traveler data shows an increase in vehicles on US 14 and US 16 from 2011-2014. Bighorn National Forest receipts from campgrounds and cabin rentals went up from $235,000 in 2006 to $371,000 in 2015. From 2011-2016, the national allocations for recreation in the Forest Service budget has declined 7%. From 2011-2014, the BNF recreation budget declined 12%. In 2015-16, the BNF recreation budget declined 24%. And the Council says the projections are for continued decline of 32% in fiscal year 2018 — while the regional and national budgets plateau instead of decline. As to why the Bighorns are seemingly facing steeper cuts than other forests in the region, Craig Cope, vice president of the council and retired Forest Service employee of 30 years, said perhaps it is simply that the Bighorns are so far from the Denver area. Or perhaps it is because bigger, commercial ski areas operate in Colorado, and they dominate the landscape. Or perhaps it is because of the population density and push for dollars along the Front Range in Colorado is huge. The Council has met in Buffalo, plans future meetings in Worland, has approached the Johnson County Commissioners, and plans to work with Sheridan leadership and other organizations to sway the funding model, Davidson said. Davidson urged the public to write to Region 2 USDA-FS with concerns, specifically telling what the Bighorn National Forest means to individuals. "We are going to keep trying," he said. For more information, contact Davidson at *Feature photo: Davidson speaks at the Sheridan Fulmer Library. /