National Forests:

Funding the Sawtooth National Recreation Area

RCED-99-47: Published: Feb 11, 1999. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area's (SNRA) funding, its accomplishments and unmet needs, and on agency actions that have adverse impacts on the area, focusing on: (1) the funds allocated to the SNRA for fiscal years 1993 through 1997; (2) spending for fiscal years 1993 through 1997 to enhance recreation, to preserve conservation values, such as fish and wildlife, and to manage commodity programs, such as grazing, and the accomplishments and unmet needs in these areas; (3) the funds not allocated or the funds allocated and then taken back from the Recreation Area for fiscal years 1993 through 1997 and what was done with those funds; and (4) some examples of potentially adverse effects of how the Recreation Area is managed on individuals, companies, and communities economically dependent on the area.

GAO noted that: (1) SNRA's overall annual budget allocation decreased in constant dollars from about $4.88 million in 1993 to about $2.25 million in 1997--a decrease of about 54 percent; (2) this rather large decrease is somewhat misleading--1993 was the second year of a 2-year funding peak in the Recreation Area's budgets; (3) these peak budgets contained: (a) special funding for recreation management that dramatically decreased in the 1994 budget; (b) funds for the construction of recreation facilities; and (c) funds for land aquisition; (4) SNRA reduced spending between fiscal years 1993 and 1997 for activities such as enhancing recreation, preserving conservation values, and managing commodity programs; (5) spending for enhancing recreation decreased about 57 percent from 1993 through 1997; (6) similarly, spending to preserve conservation values decreased 21 percent from 1993 through 1997; (7) spending for commodities programs decreased 44 percent from 1993 through 1997; (8) however, the size of these decreases is somewhat misleading because of the funds included for special projects and construction in the 1993 budget; (9) if the funds for these special projects and construction are excluded, spending decreased 19 percent for enhancing recreation, and expenditures for preserving conservation values decreased by 9 percent; (10) SNRA officials stated that because of funding shortages, a number of needs were still unmet; (11) GAO did not identify any instances in which funds that were allocated to the Recreation Area were subsequently taken back for use by other Forest Service units; (12) overall, representatives from local governments affected by how the SNRA is managed said that the Forest Service has done a good job of preserving the values that the Recreation Area was created to preserve; (13) however, they said that the declining budgets for the Recreation Area have reduced its ability to meet recreational needs; (14) the Recreation Area placed restrictions and increased requirements on river outfitters, limited the size of groups that horse-pack outfitters can take on wilderness trips, and reduced the amount of grazing allowed on its lands; (15) GAO found that the actions taken by the Recreation Area that affected these groups were taken to protect endangered salmon, rangelands, and wilderness--rather than because of funding reductions; and (16) except for the effects on some ranchers who had large reductions in their grazing privileges, from a monetary standpoint, the adverse impacts on these groups appeared to be small.

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