The tour demonstrated how forests in Wyoming support more than 4.1 million national forest visits, about half of which come from residents of Wyoming. The Secretary will be joined by U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
“Wyoming residents are no strangers to national forests in their state,” said Vilsack. “Millions of visitors take to the outdoors to enjoy awesome offerings such as skiing, hiking and bicycling. Residents of Wyoming understand as much as anyone the benefit of activities like these for enjoyable outdoor recreation, and also as important drivers of local economies. This weekend and throughout Great Outdoors Month, I encourage all Americans to visit America’s forests and parks and commit to doing what we can to ensure they can be preserved and enjoyed by future generations.”
Vilsack said partnerships are critical to the Forest Service’s ability to support recreation opportunities and programs. Speaking at a trailhead being restored by members of a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) crew made up mostly of Montana Conservation Corps AmeriCorps members, the Secretary and Chief Tidwell thanked the partner organizations; businesses; local, state, tribal and federal governments; volunteers; and 21CSC youth and veterans who partner and work with the Forest Service to support outdoor experiences. Representatives from the Wyoming Conservation Corps, Utah Conservations Corps, Friends of Pathways, and the Teton Science Schools were also present at the event. Funding for this new separate use trail reflects a partnership between the National Forest Foundation, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Friends of Pathways.
Outdoor recreation is a major industry in Wyoming. According to the State, nearly 12 percent of all Wyoming jobs depend on travel and tourism. In 2014, Wyoming hosted 10.1 million overnight visitors, resulting in $3.4 billion in direct spending. Taxes paid by visitor purchases saved each Wyoming household about $700 in taxes.
June is Great Outdoors Month and provides a chance for Americans to respond to calls by President Obama and governors alike to hike, bike, fish, camp, boat and otherwise enjoy the outdoors. Events include: free fishing opportunities and more during “National Fishing and Boating Week” (through June 14th); thousands of work and fun events on the American Hiking Society’s “National Marina Day” and “National Get Outdoors Day,” both offering easy introductions to outdoor fun (June 13th); The National Wildlife Federation’s “Great American Campout” (June 27th) and more.
On National Get Outdoors Day, many Forest Service locations will provide free recreational and educational activities. Some events are designed to better engage urban and multicultural youth to take part in nature-based activities. Opportunities include camping, rock wall climbing, kayaking, biking and archery. To locate a National Forest near you, consult the forest locator map.
“We are thrilled to host a national fee-free day on Saturday for National Get Outdoors Day,” said Chief Tidwell. “We hope many visitors will be outdoors, active and having fun on national forests and grasslands and other public lands across the country.”
In his remarks today, the Secretary said that funding used to fight catastrophic wildfires has taken a toll on agency staff and capacity to support recreation opportunities. Funding for wildfire management programs within the Forest Service has grown from 16 percent in 1995 to about 52 percent in the current fiscal year. Despite that growth, suppression costs regularly exceed the appropriated amounts, requiring mid-season transfers from non-fire programs like restoration and recreation. The Secretary and Chief Tidwell noted the growth in fire costs and fire transfers impacts other programs and staff areas within the agency, including recreation, with significant declines in staff and funding for facilities, maintenance, roads, trails, youth and recreation programs.
“Our ability to continue to manage recreation assets, connect people to the outdoors, and provide safe, quality, outdoor experiences into the future depends on finding a different way to fund fire,” said Vilsack.
With his visit to Wyoming, Secretary Vilsack has visited all 50 states in his official capacity since he became Agriculture Secretary in 2009.