Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The San Gabriels: A National Forest? A National Park? Does it Matter? (See how I propose to save Smokey)

The Angeles National Forest is poised to get the ax. There are a lot of hands gripping that particular handle, too. The National Park Service (NPS) is eager to swing into action, laying claim to a large chunk of the 655,387-acre forest now managed by the U.S. Forest Service, with the avowed goal of turning these lands into a National Recreation Area. In a draft report entitled the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study, which has taken six years to write and cost taxpayers $500,000, the most expansive land-transfer option is the one the Park Service is most interested in pursuing...Local congressionals are also falling over themselves to advocate for this project in general, and Alternative D in particular. So are national environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, and the grassroots coalition, San Gabriel Mountains Forever. Government officials in the affluent foothill communities that lie along the 210 Freeway and struggling valley cities through which I-10 runs have voiced their wholehearted support; they are anticipating an increase in recreational opportunities and tourist dollars. Many seem convinced as well that the proposed change in management, with the putative enhancements for outdoor exercise, will rein in obesity and diabetes...more 

So there you have it:  The Park Service can cure obesity and diabetes.  Come to think of it, Smokey Bear is a little on the chunky side.

Save Smokey! Transfer him to the Park Service!

  ...Where will the funds come from to provide those listed (and unlisted) services that the non-profit group dangles before our eyes? It doesn't say. Gordon Bonser, a paid consultant for groups supporting the transfer, is confident he knows that answer, telling the Whittier Daily News in November 2011: "The Forest Service doesn't get the funding the way the Parks Service does -- from inside the Department of the Interior. For whatever reason, people are real sentimental about parks so they (NPS) get a much more direct funding stream." And then he flung this jab at his former employer; the Forest Service is "like the little cow that is last in line at the feeding trough." However delightfully snarky Bonser's comments may be, they are no more data rich than the assumptions of San Gabriel Mountains Forever, yet this is the rhetoric that area politicians are eagerly peddling as they hunt for votes this November. At public sessions over the last two months, for instance, Representative Judy Chu (D-El Monte), who is expected easily to win the new 27th Congressional District in which much of the proposed recreational area would lie, repeatedly compared the Forest Service's lack of fiscal and human resources to the National Park Service's more robust budgets and staffing. As a result, she told voters in bright-green Claremont, the San Gabriel mountains have been poorly maintained, reflected in "overgrown trails, little signage and too few trash receptacles," Her cure: "the area should become part of the National Parks system." Chu has promised to make this happen.

Columnist Miller decides to check this out by looking at recent appropriation bills: 

Because the two agencies are funded through the same subcommittee, comparing their fiscal resources is straightforward. Consider their total budget authorities for 2012: the Park Service secured $2,579,600,000; the Forest Service's take was $4,595,300,000. Does this substantial disparity in the agencies' funding -- two billion dollars -- suggest that the Park Service is the relative fat cat? Or that the Forest Service is a rib-thin cow, always the last to muzzle up to the trough? It beggars the imagination that anyone can make this claim, let alone report it, with a straight face. That face gets even harder to maintain after reading over the proposed 2013 budget, which was reported out of the Appropriations Committee in late June; while there is a stopgap funding measure in place until March 2013, the House appropriators' proposal for the rest of the year would bless the Forest Service with a two-percent budgetary increase, adding $86 million to its coffers. This boost was less than President Obama had proposed, but among its land-management peers -- the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Park Service -- only the Forest Service has secured a bump over last year. By contrast, the Park Service received a curious pat-on-the-back. Observing that the agency "will be 100 years old in 2016," and applauding its "historic ten-year effort to enhance the national parks leading up to this historic celebration," the committee offered its continued support for "this effort and the $2,445,198,000 recommended will help the Service prepare for a second century of conservation, environmental stewardship and recreation benefiting millions of visitors from throughout the world. In spite of extraordinary fiscal challenges, the Committee has provided funding sufficient to manage NPS units nationwide without disruptions to operations." That last phrase is the puzzler, for House appropriators actually cut the Park Service's budget by more than five percent from 2012. How can that be anything but disruptive? Among the hardest hit line items are two that are of particular relevance to those clamoring for the creation of a San Gabriel National Recreation Area. The NPS recreational account was slashed by 9% from the previous year; worse, according the Congressional Research Service, "most of the decrease in the bill relative to both the FY2012 appropriation and the FY2013 request would be for Land Acquisition and State Assistance." Those dreaming that the Park Service will spray a hose-full of cash on the San Gabriels and into the surrounding communities might want to damp down that fantasy.

Miller also points out the difference in approps is not that much if you figure it on an per acre basis, and the joint custody proposed by the Park Service would be confusing.

OK, but here's the deal:  The Forest Service can't cure obesity and diabetes.  So, hands down, any caring person would insist these lands go to the parkies.

The only chance the Forest Service has is to tell the truth and do something like:


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