Forest Service asks Eagle County governments for funding after money is diverted to firefighting
VAIL — U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Aaron Mayville asked Eagle County governments for funding help after his district’s budget was cut by more than 85 percent over the past decade.
At Vail Town Council’s meeting Tuesday, members heard a presentation and request for money from Mayville, who oversees the Eagle Holy Cross District. The presentation laid out the challenges of managing the 704,000-acre district, which runs from the top of Vail Pass to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and into Glenwood Canyon.
The list of challenges starts with funding.
In 2008, the Forest Service budget was $270,000 for what it calls the “Front Country Recreation Program.” This program helps manage campgrounds, dispersed campsites and trails. That budget funded a full-time law enforcement officer, two full-time recreation field supervisors, four seasonal staff members, and supplies and vehicles for those employees.
In 2018, that budget has dropped to about $40,000, which pays for one seasonal employee, supplies and a vehicle. Much of the lost revenue has gone to firefighting throughout the national forest system.
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In that decade, recreational use has increased, putting a lot of pressure on the district office.
Funding the Feds
In response, Mayville has talked with mayors and town managers across Eagle County about the prospect of providing local funding to help rebuild staffing.
Vail Town Manager Greg Clifton told council members Tuesday that the mayors and managers group has prepared a proposal of local support that Eagle County towns can consider as those governments plan their 2019 budgets.
Under the proposal, an annual appropriation of $149,000 would pay for a permanent supervisor, three seasonal employees, support for developed campgrounds and covering dispersed camping areas, trailhead support and other enforcement and education projects.
‘Shame on D.C.’
While supportive of the idea of local funding for the district, council member Greg Moffet said the request is a reflection of poor federal priorities.
“This situation sucks for you,” Moffet said to Mayville. “And shame on (Washington, D.C.). We’re being asked to use local tax dollars for federal land that’s not in our jurisdiction.”
The problem, Moffet added, is that once local funding supplants federal money, locals will pay those bills in perpetuity.
Moffet wondered why Eagle County’s congressional delegation — Reps. Jared Polis and Scott Tipton and Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet — haven’t been more vocal about funding public lands in Colorado.
Mayville said beyond catching up with essential work out in the field — from enforcement of fire bans to trash clean-up — additional staff would allow people in the district office to work more on long-term planning. That planning includes a management plan for Booth Lake and work on ways to reduce impacts to streams and provide better visitor experiences.
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