Wyoming forest plan criticized by state, local leaders

The Bridger wilderness in Wyoming. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

JACKSON, Wyo. — Plans by the Bridger-Teton National Forest to thin and burn wildlands in northwest Wyoming have drawn objections over a proposal to ban cutting trees and other issues.

The Wyoming State Forestry Division and area government leaders have formally objected to prohibiting cutting trees in a proposed Palisades wilderness area abutting the west side of Jackson Hole. Conservationists and biologists are urging review of the region’s suitability for wilderness and more thorough study.

The proposed Teton-to-Snake Fuels Management Project has been in the works for about six years. It is intended to allow wildfire to play its natural role on the landscape, while at the same time provide a manageable buffer for fires that burn near private property.

The U.S. Forest Service’s most recent plan, a draft decision released in February, was to burn 14 square miles and thin another 3 square miles, with all use of machinery in the Palisades deferred pending congressional action on the wilderness designation.

Wyoming Forestry contends that the most recent plans no longer adequately protect from wildfire the nearly 40 miles where wildland abuts urban areas and the 1,500 private lots near the project area.

Wyoming Assistant State Forester Josh Van Vlack told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that the U.S. Forest Service must provide a buffer between the potential wilderness and neighboring property.

“It’s really hard to manage potential wilderness when it’s butted up against private property,” Van Vlack said. “You have to have a little bit of a buffer there.”

Meantime, a coalition of local governments wants to allow more commercial timber harvests. The group, which includes officials from Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta and Sublette counties, suggested there could be a resurgence of the logging industry in western Wyoming.

But others have environmental concerns about the proposal. “I am deeply concerned about the long-term ramifications of this project,” ecologist Debra Patla wrote to the agency.

Patla contends the Forest Service must establish measurable objectives for sensitive species, protect amphibians, whitebark pine and migratory birds and cut back or eliminate commercial timber sales included in the project.

Some groups implored the Forest Service to withdraw its draft and start from scratch.

The Forest Service will hold hearings to try to resolve the differences.

Dale Deiter, the forest’s Jackson district ranger, said it remains to be seen if the objections can be dealt with by the federal agency. Otherwise, the disputes would have to be settled in the courts.

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