The federal budget, more precisely the national debt and the attempts to reduce it, are being felt locally with Forest Service campground closures and reduced hours at some visitors centers.
Visitors in need of agency services are encouraged to plan ahead.
The Inyo National Forest is having to take some drastic measures to balance its budget this fiscal year, and in unprecedented actions is closing some campgrounds and reducing services and interpretive programs at visitor centers in the middle of the summer, according to Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta in a press release.
This year, all of the national forests received their budgets much later than normal, with the Inyo National Forest receiving a final budget on June 15. The final budget was significantly lower than what had been projected, particularly in the areas of recreation and wilderness, Armenta said.
According to Armenta, for the past month, Inyo National Forest leadership has “struggled with how to balance their budget and they have been working with many of their partners in an attempt to maintain as high a level of public service and resource protection as possible.”
Armenta noted many partners, including the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, Friends of the Inyo, the Town of Mammoth Lakes, and the National Park Service, have stepped up to help, but even all that assistance can only go so far.
Over the past couple of weeks, in an attempt to reduce costs, the Forest Service has reduced staff by seven temporary employees who had been hired for the summer, has moved a couple of employees to grant-funded programs, and has not filled several vacancies that had been slated to be filled, including the key staff positions of Forest Recreation Officer and Forest Resource Officer.
In line with the reduction in staff capabilities and to further reduce costs, the following campgrounds have been closed for the summer: Upper Deadman, Lower Deadman, Hartley Springs and Obsidian Group Camp.
As of July 31, reductions in hours and services at Visitor Centers, from north to south, will be in effect until further notice:
• Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center – open daily 8 a.m. -5 p.m., however no permits will be available from noon-1 p.m. (including wilderness permits and fuel-wood permits). All scheduled Patio Interpretive Talks have been cancelled, except for the Mono Lake Committee Restoration Talks on Wednesdays. And, an earlier seasonal closure date for the visitor center is currently being discussed.
• South Tufa – 1 p.m. daily interpretive tours have been cancelled (the Tufa State Natural Reserve and the Mono Lake Committee are still offering their tours).
• Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center – open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m., however no permits will be available from noon-1 p.m. (including wilderness permits and fuel-wood permits)
• White Mountain Ranger Station and Public Lands Information Center – open daily 8 a.m. -5 p.m. Closed noon-1 p.m.
• Schulman Grove Visitor Center – open daily 1-5 p.m. with limited staffing. Scheduled Interpretive Programs have been cancelled.
• InterAgency Visitor Center – open daily 8 a.m. -4:30 p.m. Wilderness Permits will no longer be available for pick-up between 4:30 and 6 p.m.
Wilderness permits are still required for all over-night backpacking trips into the Hoover, Ansel Adams, John Muir and Golden Trout wildernesses, and for all over-night and day-use trips into the Mt. Whitney Zone. The only issuance change is the availability of permits at the visitor centers as outlined above.
“Because this does reflect a significant change in available hours for picking up permits, all wilderness users are asked to plan ahead to pick up their permits by closing time, or plan for early the next morning,” the press release states.
Armenta said in the press release he would like to extend his apologies for any inconvenience these closures and reductions in service will cause, especially right in the middle of the summer season.
“Attempting to balance our budget this year has really been a challenge and we are certainly anticipating further budget cuts in fiscal year 2012 as our nation grapples with the federal deficit,” Armenta said in the press release. “I am thankful for all of our partners as they have stepped up to assist us in serving the public and protecting the special
resources of the Eastern Sierra. It will be even more important as we move into the future to continue to work together, exploring options and leveraging resources, to provide the highest level of service to the public that we are financially and physically capable of.”
For more information, call Public Affairs Officer Nancy Upham at (760) 873-2427.