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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- The Uinta National Forest has had to sacrifice part of its budget for Western firefighting efforts in other states and shortchange basic sanitation and safety needs in Utah.
Drought has weakened the 400,000-acre forest in northern Utah, with pests infesting pine and fir trees and butterfly populations declining as flowers dry up. Illegal campfires and all-terrain-vehicle are leaving scars on the land.
"We are often in a defensive mode instead of a proactive mode, and we struggle with that," said Loyal Clark, public involvement coordinator for the forest district.
Of the 152 projects designated as "critical" by Uinta forest service staff last year, she said, only 50 could be funded.
As the number of visitors tripled, staffers for the Uinta National Forest were cut by a third. Last year, $1 million of the district's $7 million budget was diverted to pay for Western firefighting. More funding is expected to be sacrificed this year.
On a recent day, district resource manager Duane Resare drove up Hobble Creek Canyon, into Diamond Fork and Sixth Water and down Spanish Fork Canyon -- a route he had no inspected for two weeks.
He found trail of mud and rocks across a road, the result of a flash flood that had yet to be cleaned up. Campers, in violation of fire restrictions, left blackened fire rings along the road. Each fire pit has to be dug up to deter others from using them.
Pine trees as tall as 10 feet, planted 20 years ago in a beautification project, are dying because of the drought and can't be replaced. Other trees have fallen into forest roads. Signs used for target practice and shot up beyond recognition need to be replaced.
The district is relying on volunteers to do much of this work.
"There are a lot of things on this forest that we are just letting go," Clark said. "We just don't have the funding, we don't have the staff do deal with them."
Created in 1897, the Uinta National Forest predates legislation creating the Forest Service as a federal agency. The forest, at first used for grazing and timber, has turned into a playground for urban visitors.
"We are noticing a huge increase in mountain biking and rock climbing and ATV use, as well as snowmobile use in the winter time. Our campgrounds are not suited to handle somebody coming in with a big recreational vehicle and they may have an ATV and a boat with it," Clark said.
"There have been a lot of changes that the public has demanded and requested and we are really struggling to keep up. We are not appropriated the amount of money that we need," she said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved