Forest Service Needs Money


Last updated 2/24/2020 at 3:23pm

There is not a government agency or private enterprise that would not like to have more revenue. However, the U.S. Forest Service, and in particular the Pisgah Ranger District, truly needs more revenue.

Three factors are driving the need for more money for the Forest Service: a decreased workforce, a reallocation of human resources and an increase in recreational usage.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the number of full-time employees who work in the national forests in North Carolina has decreased by roughly one-third. In 1995, there were 275 full-time national forest employees in the state. By 2019, that number had decreased to 185.

Not only has the staff been significantly reduced, but in recent years many Forest Service staff members have been intermittently re-deployed to fight wildfires out West. As those fires become greater in number and scope, both the number of Forest Service personnel and the length of their re-deployments have increased. As a result, the work that needs to be done in their home districts is being delayed or is not being done at all.

This decrease in Forest Service personnel comes at a time when recreational use of the forests, particularly the Pisgah District, is at an all-time high. Recreational use is so great that parking is unavailable at many venues. During summer weekends, it can take up to one hour or longer to exit the Pisgah National Forest at the intersection of U.S. 276 and U.S. 64.

This trend of increasing recreational use will only continue. Western North Carolina is growing rapidly and outdoor recreation is the major attraction. As the population in North Carolina and the areas of the Southeast that are within a half-day’s drive of Pisgah National Forest continue to increase, so will the number of people coming to recreate in this area.

This recreational growth also is being exacerbated by the loss of private woodlands. Fifty years ago there were hundreds of thousands of acres in which people could hike, hunt, fish, swim and boat. But with ever-expanding development, particularly in the Piedmont, those places are disappearing. The predominant place to enjoy those activities is now most often on public lands.

Reducing staff while demand grows is antithetical to basic economics. As demand for a product grows, so does the number of employees to help meet that demand. It’s the simple reason why retail and delivery businesses hire additional staff before Christmas. Imagine the economic losses that would ensue for companies like Walmart, Amazon or UPS if they reduced their staff during the six weeks prior to Christmas. Yet, this is exactly what has happened to the Forest Service; use of our national forests has dramatically increased while staff has been reduced.

Volunteer groups have helped mitigate this decrease in staffing. We have a large number of excellent volunteers who maintain and build trails and staff certain venues, such as the Pisgah Ranger Station. But volunteers cannot adequately replace full-time trained rangers, particularly when it comes to overseeing timber usage, watershed and wildlife management, or just figuring out which trails should be completely rerouted or renovated.

Pisgah and Nantahala national forests are vital to our local economy. According to the Transylvania County Tourism Report for 2018-19, tourism generated $106.32 million and provided 870 jobs locally for that fiscal year. The impact, however, is much greater than that because many who visit the area as tourists return to live here, thus creating a demand for new homes and more services.

The forests also enhance our physical, mental and spiritual well being. They provide a necessary balance to our modern, technology-centered lives.

As the Forest Service finalizes its newest plans for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, it would be beneficial if our elected federal officials would lead the charge to devote more monetary resources to the Forest Service so that they can adequately manage these popular and precious lands.


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