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Visits to National Forests Are Declining, Do You Hike the Local Ones?

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AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

National Forests began in 1891 at the hands of Congress as a way to protect the land from cut-and-run logging. Today the system covers 190 million acres in 155 National Forests, but surveys are finding a decline in visits and use.

It wasn't until 2000 that the Forest Service first started monitoring visitor use. What they found between 2000 and 2003 was that 204.8 million came annually. Between 2003 and 2007, only 178.6 million, a 13% drop, the Associated Press reported over the weekend.

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Top officials at the U.S. Forest Service blame it on circumstances outside their control - rising gas prices, the popularity of video games and the Internet, and an increasingly urban and aging population less inclined to camp out. Critics focus on fees charged for hiking trails and visitor centers, a proliferation of noisy off-road vehicles and the declining proportion of the Forest Service budget dedicated to recreation.

Los Angeles is surrounded by National Forests (they often are what is burning). There is the Angeles National Forest that borders the Northeast Valley into the San Gabriel Valley, the Los Padres National Forest between the Santa Clarita Valley and Ventura, the San Bernardino National Forest to the east and the Cleveland National Forest in Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties. There are 18 National Forests total in California.