Forest hit with 5 percent budget cut

Campgrounds, visitor centers stay open, public could see slower service in some areas

A 5 percent cut to the Inyo National Forest budget this year (compared to last year) will not result in campground or visitor center closures or reduced hours, according to local forest officials.

It will, however, likely affect how often some maintenance, monitoring, and other forest work gets done, and it means several top and mid-level administrative positions currently vacant may stay that way.

“It is the forest’s priority to keep all visitor services open and if we have to cut, it will be in the area of administrative costs,” said Deb Schweitzer, the Inyo National Forest’s acting public affairs officer.

“This includes travel, training, and supplies. We want to keep the necessary field operations intact for the visitors that come here to recreate. The campgrounds will be open, the visitor centers will be open and continue to have the same hours, but we will be operating at reduced staffing in other areas such as maintenance.

“We will be able to continue to provide basic maintenance to trails, roads, and issues such as a broken water line,” Schweitzer said.

She said the forest would increasingly rely on “partner agencies” and volunteers to get through the season.

“We are getting creative with volunteers and groups such as ESIA (Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, which runs the forest’s bookstores and other retail operations),” she said.

“Also, we have several vacant positions that we will delay filling, or will fill with temporary employees.”

While visitors may not see the impacts of this reduced staffing directly, longer waits for special permits will be a possible result.

When asked if the 5 percent cut was due to the effects of the federal “sequester,” she referred to this year’s budget cuts to the Inyo National Forest. All sequestration questions are being referred to a USDA spokeswoman, she said.

That spokeswoman, Stephanie Chan, did not return calls before press time, but in a previous email regarding sequester impacts, Chan said the sequester would have impacts to the national forest system, but she declined to say if it would affect the Inyo National Forest specifically.

“Impacts on cuts in recreation at specific forests and grasslands are still being determined,” Chan said in her email April 5. “The Forest Service is planning for the possible closure of 670 campgrounds, trailheads, and picnic sites around the country in peak use season in the spring and summer and are still determining which, exactly, those areas will be.

“The closing of these recreation sites would result in loss of the opportunity for as many as 1.6 million visitors to national forests, harming the economies of remote rural communities that depend on recreation dollars, ” Chan wrote.

Schweitzer said the Inyo has seen decreased budgets year after year and is planning ahead as much as possible, should that trend continue.

“We are trying to be forward thinking,” she said. “We are going to plan and anticipate for continued cuts.”