December 21, 2003
Casper Star Tribune
Recreation top income producer in Bighorn forest
SHERIDAN (AP) -- Tourism dollars generated by the Bighorn National Forest far
outweigh earnings from livestock grazing and timber harvesting, according to a
University of Wyoming study.
However, timbering is the only industry among the three that could produce
more income under proposed changes to the forest's management plan, said David
"Tex" Taylor, a UW professor of agricultural and applied economics.
Taylor presented preliminary findings of the study Wednesday at a meeting of
the Bighorn National Forest steering committee, which is advising forest officials
on a new plan to guide management for the next 10 to 15 years.
The study shows tourism contributes $40 million in annual income to the four
counties surrounding the forest, while cattle and sheep grazing generate an
average of $5 million and timbering just under $1 million.
"The forest revision is not looking at changing the grazing levels either
up or down, but timbering is required by law to be analyzed with different harvest
levels," Tongue District Ranger Craig Yancey said.
The UW study shows that approximately 2.1 million board feet of timber has
been harvested each of the past several years. But six alternatives under consideration
propose annual harvests ranging from 2.2 million board feet to 10.1 million.
Annual income from jobs would jump from just under $1 million to $4 million
if the latter alternative is approved, Taylor said.
Steering committee members as well as local residents said they are troubled
by many aspects of the study.
For one, they said, figures detailing the economic impact of recreation and
other tourism do not include residents of Sheridan, Johnson, Washakie and Big
Mike Watkins of Sheridan said if the local impact were considered, annual income
from recreation would nearly double to almost $80 million.
"Recreation is far more valuable" to the four counties than timbering
and grazing combined, he said, and that the forest-management plan should therefore
Sierra Club representative Kirk Koepsel agreed, saying he believes some people
move to the area because of the Big Horn Mountains and their recreational and
Taylor said he didn't include local recreation figures because local residents
don't bring new dollars into the communities as other tourists do.
He also said that unlike timbering, the income generated from recreation is
not expected to change based on the alternatives being considered.
Steering committee member and Sheridan County Commissioner Charley Whiton disagreed.
"There is no way in hell tourism stays the same in the alternatives,"
An alternative emphasizing new wilderness areas would limit the number of people
who could access those areas, Whiton said. But forest officials said those areas
are generally non-motorized anyway and that a wilderness designation would not
likely affect use.
Taylor said the UW study is based on preliminary numbers from the Bighorn forest
and that the report will undoubtedly change when more refined numbers are available.
Forest planner Bernie Bornong said the steering committee on Jan. 8-9 will
discuss potential changes to the alternatives before releasing a draft document
to the public.
He said the public can comment on that document before a revised management plan