Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance: Cut Ogden office before merging
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 15, 2013
The U.S. Forest Service should eliminate or restructure its regional office rather than study merging the two national forests nearest to Jackson, a Jackson Hole watchdog group says.
In a letter sent last week, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance asked Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to consider the idea. Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forest leaders are just weeks from pushing for or against a merger of the two national forests. The consolidation study was ordered to explore costsavings.
“As an alternative to the merger, the Alliance suggests that you consider eliminating the Forest Service Intermountain Regional office,” the letter reads. “The White House Office of Management and Budget has suggested eliminating the entire regional office management layer. Eliminating the management layer or folding Region 4 into existing regions would no doubt save millions of dollars, eliminate bureaucracy, and keep boots on the ground where they are still needed.”
Kniffy Hamilton, chairwoman of the alliance’s board of directors and retired Bridger-Teton supervisor, said regional Forest Service offices are the “most expendable.”
“You wouldn’t want to get rid of the district and the forest supervisor of-fices, because those are the offices closest to the ground,” Hamilton said.
If the regional management remains in place, Hamilton said, it would make more sense to fold the Bridger-Teton into Forest Service Region 2, headquartered in Denver.
“I don’t know why the Bridger-Teton wasn’t included with the rest of the Wyoming forests,” she said.
Ogden, Utah-based Region 4, which manages the Bridger-Teton, covers the western edge of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and southern Idaho.
The Office of Management and Budget originally proposed removing the U.S. Forest Service’s regional office layer of management in 2007, but the agency pledged instead to reduce costs at nine regional offices and one Wash-ington office by 25 percent. Within two years, related cuts to the upper levels of forest management eliminated 488 full-time employees and saved $107 million in operating costs, according to the Forest Service’s fiscal year 2013 “budget justification.”
Those cuts will “inevitably ... have a substantial ripple effect at the forest and district levels,” according to an agency study, the “Unit Consolidation Review Project.”
That 2007 report found that national forest and ranger district mergers rarely meet objectives to cut budgets and focus missions. Citing the study, the alliance asked Tidwell to “cease any efforts” to combine the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee. Teton County commissioners have also called for the U.S. Forest Service to drop the merger study.
An eight-person Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee study group will hold an all-day meeting about the merger today in Alpine. A recommendation whether to proceed is expected around the time Nora Rasure steps in as the new regional forester Feb. 19.