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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 1 - 7, 2002


SNRA budget slips again

Record-breaking visitation expected this summer

"The bottom line is that the SNRA’s budget is continuing to decline. The little things across the board won’t get covered."

Deb Cooper, SNRA area ranger

Express Staff Writer

Federal appropriations to Idaho’s crown jewel, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, are slipping for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, SNRA managers are anticipating record-breaking visitation this summer.

This year’s appropriated budget is about $1.8 million, down from last year’s $2.1 million. The SNRA’s 2000 fiscal budget was $2.4 million. This is the lowest year since 1998, and¾ including a 4 to 5 percent annual increase in the cost of doing business¾ it is probably the lowest year since 1994, said Deb Cooper, SNRA area ranger.

"The bottom line is that the SNRA’s budget is continuing to decline," Cooper said. "The little things across the board won’t get covered."

Those little things include staffing the Stanley Ranger Station seven days a week, opening the Galena Overlook center as often as in previous years and initiating special projects. They’re things the visiting public may not notice, but will detract from the recreation area’s overall management.

For example, Cooper said she wanted to hire temporary biologists to help with a daunting work load and help issue a long-overdue environmental assessment on grazing allotments in the East Fork Salmon River drainage. Temporary help, and immediate completion of the East Fork environmental assessment, are going to have to wait, she said.

When considering the SNRA’s fixed costs, which include personnel, vehicles, travel and overhead, the area’s budget this year is $100,000 in the hole. Appropriations haven’t failed to cover fixed costs since at least 1998, and fixed costs have risen only $300,000 in four years.

Even worse, as appropriations dwindle, Cooper said she is expecting the summer to be busy, "busier than ever before."

All of the campsites on the SNRA’s reservations system—between 100 and 150—sold out in two days this spring, Cooper said. That’s probably a record.

"The tone that’s been set post 9-11 is, Winnebago can’t make campers fast enough. I think this is going to be a record year for camping on the SNRA."

Others have taken notice of the SNRA’s financial conundrums, too.

In 1999, Sen. Larry Craig requested that the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) investigate the SNRA’s declining budget. According to the GAO, the recreation area’s budget fell about 26 percent from 1993 to 1997 when the appropriated budget was close to this year’s $1.8 million. Following a decade-low $1.4 million in 1998, the SNRA’s appropriated budget climbed for two years, and dipped again to this year’s level.

The 1999 GAO report pointed out that declining budgets reduce the recreation area’s ability to "meet recreational needs by, for example, preventing the recreation area from maintaining trails and building new campsites."

In a three-page letter penned to Sen. Mike Crapo April 2, the Blaine County Commissioners contended the SNRA is under funded and that the recreation area’s status as a funding entity should be elevated.

"At a higher reporting level, the SNRA would be funded similarly to national forests, receiving $8 million to $20 million. Currently the SNRA is funded like ranger districts, receiving $1 million to $1.5 million," Commissioner Sarah Michael wrote.

The SNRA is the largest of 38 national recreation areas and comprises 754,000 acres in four counties and three national forests. It contains parts of five mountain ranges, the headwaters of five major rivers and more than 1,000 lakes.

Though the SNRA’s budget is funneled through Sawtooth National Forest headquarters, Sawtooth spokesman Ed Waldapfel said final budgets for the forest’s Ketchum, Fairfield and Twin Falls ranger districts and the SNRA are not yet final.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.