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Sierra hikers dispute federal report about declining use of U.S. forests

By Jeff DeLong • jdelong@rgj.com • December 15, 2008

It's what the Incline Village woman loves to do, and she regularly encounters many others -- young and old alike -- who share her outdoor passion. That's why Devine was surprised to learn about a new government report suggesting fewer people are using national forest land these days.

"I talk to people who are hiking and using the trails all the time," said Devine, 46. "That does surprise me." The visitor use national summary report, recently released by the U.S. Forest Service, shows that visits to the country's national forests declined from 204.8 million in 2004 to 178.6 million in 2007, a drop of about 13 percent and a continuation of a trend first noticed several years ago.

In the Forest Service's Region 4, which includes Nevada, Utah and southern Idaho, the report showed a 9 percent decline. Visitors to Nevada's Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which at 6.3 million acres is the largest national forest in the lower 48 states, also apparently dropped, said Forest Supervisor Ed Monnig.

In 2004, an estimated 2.9 million people visited the forest but the number dropped to 1.9 million in 2007, a decrease of nearly 35 percent.

The government's methods of gauging visitation have varied since efforts commenced in 2000 and the task is a difficult one, Monnig said. "We don't have turnstiles; we don't take tickets," Monnig said. "It's a challenge to determine how many people really use the national forest."

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