Despite reassurances from forest service officials, the announcement that the Wasatch-Cache and Uinta National Forests are merging is troubling.
Administrators candidly admit the decision to combine the two forests is budget-driven, citing increased overhead and fire-fighting costs combined with federal funding cuts.
That, of course, means it was not based on what is best for the land or the people who use it, but on the need to cut corners.
Our worries are further fueled by the acknowledgement that the merger, which is expected to take place over the next three years, will include staff reductions.
That is particularly alarming since the message we constantly hear, at least from managers of the Wasatch-Cache, is that forest use (and misuse) is soaring, that pressure on all of the resources from mining and agricultural interests to recreational users is reaching a crisis point, and they are woefully shorthanded.
While cutting costs from the top by reducing redundant administrative services is sometimes a good idea, in this case we fear the two distinctly different forests will suffer if they are run under one overarching plan.
The pressures, and therefore the planning priorities, for the Wasatch Cache have always been different from those faced by the Uinta National Forest. Because of its proximity to urban centers like Salt Lake, the Wasatch Cache has been forced to face mostly recreation-centered issues such as how to manage ATV use, campgrounds and fishing. Public safety also is one of its major concerns.
Uinta National Forest administrators, on the other hand, have been more concerned with developing water and mineral resources and logging. And, because the two national forests were separate entities they could respond more quickly to those specific needs.
Wasatch-Cache leaders have spent years collecting public input in order to devise a plan specific to the needs of their forest users. We presume their counterparts to the south have done the same and we would hate to lose both their expertise and their autonomy.
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