Thinning and Rx Fire Project in Wyoming Faces Competing Objections

This article illustrates the difficulties the USFS can face….

Teton-to-Snake faces competing objections

Bridger-Teton National Forest officials are being pulled hard in two directions as they try to finalize plans to thin and burn wildlands abutting the west side of Jackson Hole.

Tugging on one side of the issue are the Wyoming State Forestry Division and a band of non-Teton County commissioners, who have formally objected to plans to keep chainsaws out of the Palisades until its in-limbo status as proposed wilderness is resolved by Congress. Conservationists and biologists, meanwhile, are yanking in the other direction, asking federal officials to complete a review of the region’s baseline wilderness suitability and better study the effects on wildlife and vegetation.

Wyoming Forestry’s contention is that the most recent Bridger-Teton plans no longer adequately protect the nearly 40 miles of wildland-urban interface and 1,500 private lots adjoining the project area.

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5 Comments

  1. As we just saw recently, EPA & USFS #1 goal is protection of the public – On the surface, it sounds like “pure wilderness” is incompatible with that goal in this situation. It would seem like a compromise with a reduced wilderness area surrounded by a significant buffer of forest managed to minimize the chance of fire spreading to the adjacent WUI would be in order.

    With 109million acres in the National Wilderness Protection System why do we need more? With the majority in the west, why do we need more in the west (see p10)?

  2. With 109 million acres in the National Wilderness Preservation System why do we need more?

    Because over 97 percent of federal public lands in the Lower 48 states are NOT protected as wilderness. It’s true that large areas of Alaska are protected as wilderness, but is it unreasonable to think we should keep more than 2% of federal lands in the Lower 48 protected? Wildlife needs wilderness, and future generations will not thank us for destroying their chances to experience untrammeled wilderness. If we’re looking for balance in public lands management, we should have a lot more wilderness, not less.

    Why not protect more wilderness in the East and the Midwest and the South instead of the West, where apparently some people think we are overburdened with wilderness? Could it be because the opportunity is gone, and the vast majority of wilderness-quality lands have already had their wilderness qualities destroyed? You can’t designate wilderness areas where wilderness no longer exists.

    The Palisades Wilderness Study Area discussed in the article above was established by Congress in 1984 under the Wyoming Wilderness Act, with a mandate to protect its “presently existing wilderness character” and its “potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.” That’s a mandate, not an option for the Forest Service to take or leave. How can they go after it with helicopters and chainsaws and still maintain its wilderness character? They can’t. And as long as the nearby private landowners take no steps to protect their own property from wildfires, this project is likely to create a false sense of security without contributing significantly or reliably to protection of the public.

    • A Harvey

      Boy, do we have a difference of opinion and we aren’t even talking roadless and other restricted acreage.

      As a Southerner (Virginia to Texas), Easterner (Canada to D.C.), Westerner (San Francisco to Southern Washington to Montana & Idaho) who has provided technical expertise on, worked in and or recreated in forests in all of those places, I’d like to explain a few things to you about what is different East versus West. By way of background, my major experience is all over the south with six years of higher education in forestry and related physical and biological sciences, economics/operations research and advanced statistics/research analysis plus 39 years of experience in both the forestry and wood products industry. I spent a summer fighting fires and doing timber stand improvement work in Northern California and camping in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Later, I worked in San Francisco and recreated in the Sequoia’s, Muir Woods and the Sierras. We’ve camped at Yosemite and also at what might as well have been a wilderness area around Feely Lake just north of Emigrants Gap and Yuba Pass. At Feely Lake we had a good bit of snow on the ground on some north slopes and a good bit 20’ from our tents with ice still on the adjacent Carr Lake for a week over the fourth of July where we (3 young kids and 4 adults) only saw three or four people and one weekend camper).

      1) Re your statement: “Because over 97 percent of federal public lands in the Lower 48 states are NOT protected as wilderness. It’s true that large areas of Alaska are protected as wilderness, but is it unreasonable to think we should keep more than 2% of federal lands in the Lower 48 protected?”
      –> Yes it is unreasonable, let’s consider that:
      a) There is plenty of public (more so in the west) and private (more so in the east) land that already provides lots of recreational opportunity for solitude and a wilderness like experience especially since most of the public land is either restricted and/or not managed due to the threat of environmental legal action over some possible endangered species or fear of endangering a pristine viewshed. (See table below for facts and #2 below for reasons)
      b) The state of California alone contains 101 million acres. Of this, 14,964,334 acres are preserved by the 1964 Wilderness Preservation Act. This constitutes 14.8% of the state’s total area and 13.7% of all US Wilderness. Sounds pretty large to me. With 12.0% of the 2005 US Population California has a reasonable balance and is doing very well in terms of places to find solitude and see nature. (See table below for facts and #2 below for reasons)
      c) The State of Wyoming, where your Palisades Wilderness Study Area is, contains 62 million acres. Of this, 3,067,696 acres are already preserved by the 1964 Wilderness Preservation Act. This constitutes 4.9% of the state’s total area and 2.8% of all US Wilderness presently. Sounds pretty large to me as it is and the Palisades would add 134,417 more acres bringing the total wilderness in the state to 5.2% of the state’s total acreage. When the Palisades is already low traffic, remote, rugged and fairly heavily restricted USFS land and when Wyoming only has 0.2% of the US population, I’d say that they are doing especially well in terms of places to find solitude and see nature and to provide the same for those few who are relatively well off and can afford the time and money to travel to find said solitude and see said nature in Wyoming. (See table below for facts and #2 below for reasons)
      d) The total for all states in the western portion of the lower 48 (i.e. located completely to the west of Colorado’s eastern border) contain 43.8% of the total US wilderness area. It sounds like the west is doing pretty well for itself especially since it only has 22.1% of the US population. Yet some aren’t satisfied with the existing restrictions and want to lock it up even more. (See table below for facts and #2 below for reasons)
      e) Alaska at 51.8% holds more US wilderness than all other states and territories combined and it only has 0.2% of the population. (See table below for facts and #2 below for reasons). Oh, you say, that that is too far to go and too expensive for most. Yup, that is why the old line that ‘western wilderness is there for all to see’ is pretty stale.
      f) That leaves 4.3% of the US wilderness for all of the rest of the states and territories combined and we are doing just fine even though we have 77.7% of the US population. (See table below for facts and #2 below for reasons)
      g) No state east of Colorado has more than 1% of the total US wilderness area and we are quite happy. (See table below for facts and #2 below for reasons)

      Sorry but this Excel table came out ugly from copying and pasting
      – Any suggestions on how to do this right?
      – I don’t have any place to post the screen capture of the spreadsheet so that I can link to that image
      – To make matters worse, the pasting seems to have messed up the formatting for item #2.

      —– / Wilderness / % of Total / Total / % of Total
      State / Acres / Wilderness / Population / Population
      —————————————————————————–
      California / 14,964,334 / 13.7% / 36,132,147 / 12.0%
      Idaho / 4,795,782 / 4.4% / 1,429,096 / 0.5%
      Arizona / 4,512,120 / 4.1% / 5,939,292 / 2.0%
      Washington / 4,482,241 / 4.1% / 6,287,759 / 2.1%
      Colorado / 3,735,074 / 3.4% / 4,665,177 / 1.6%
      Montana / 3,502,496 / 3.2% / 935,670 / 0.3%
      Nevada / 3,440,680 / 3.2% / 2,414,807 / 0.8%
      Wyoming / 3,067,696 / 2.8% / 509,294 / 0.2%
      Oregon / 2,475,735 / 2.3% / 3,641,056 / 1.2%
      New Mexico / 1,695,010 / 1.6% / 1,928,384 / 0.6%
      Utah / 1,157,693 / 1.1% / 2,469,585 / 0.8%
      —————————————————————————–
      WestLower48 / 47,828,861 / 43.8% / 66,352,267 / 22.1%

      Alaska 56,572,549 / 51.8% / 663,661 / 0.2%
      —————————————————————————–
      Any Other State N/A / < = 1% / N/A / N/A ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- TotOthStates(1) 4,726,279 / 4.3% / 233,722,045 / 77.7%---------------------------------------------------------- Grand Tot USA 109,127,689 / 100.0% / 300,737,973 / 100.0%------------------------------------------------- Note: (1) = States and Territories ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2) Re your statement: "Why not protect more wilderness in the East and the Midwest and the South instead of the West, where apparently some people think we are overburdened with wilderness? Could it be because the opportunity is gone, and the vast majority of wilderness-quality lands have already had their wilderness qualities destroyed? You can’t designate wilderness areas where wilderness no longer exists."------------------------------------------------------------------- --> Because we don’t especially need more wilderness. We can enjoy what we have already on public and private lands and have been doing so for eons. Proximity for pretty drives, hunting, fishing, hiking, birding, boating, swimming, photographing nature and etc. is what matters most to us. Admittedly there is plenty of scenery that is unique to certain regions and I have seen some wonderful things out west that I am glad to be able to still see in my mind’s eye. Some was USFS land, some was wilderness and some was state parks and industrial land in California, Oregon and Washington. But there is plenty that is unique in other regions and most of the east is within a day’s drive of multiple scenic, quiet, public forest areas filled with a different kind of grandeur. The federal lands in places like the scenic Smokey Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains extend from the plains states to the east coast from the NorthEast to Florida and its breathtaking longleaf pine stands. The view from the Blue Ridge and other parkways are a gorgeous mix of vast forests intermixed with beautiful farms and small cities which don’t bother our viewshed rights at all. It is a splendid display of mankind’s harmony with nature. You haven’t lived until you’ve driven the parkways and off the beaten trails in spring when the orchards on inholdings below you are blooming along with the wild flowers and then there are the incredible fall colors. In addition, we have industrial forests and private lands that we often pay to use. So, in North Mississippi, without having to pay for anything but gas usually, I am 10-15 minutes from a very nice state park (add $3/visit or $50/yr.) and several small Corps of Engineers parks and waterways that I can lose myself in and not know that the rest of the world even exists whether it is just for an hour or for a full day. I am 45 minutes from a wonderful National Wildlife Management Area and several more Corps of Engineers forest areas and 1 to 2 hours from several more state parks, USFS and Corps of Engineers lands including one USFS forest with a wild and scenic river within a wilderness area. All of these and more provide plenty of solitude and recreation and are just as pleasant and refreshing and much more valuable to me and my fellow southerners as any western experience. In Arlington, Va. (a bedroom community for Washington, D.C. and now with plenty of federal buildings of its own) as a young kid and on subsequent visits, I could and still can get totally absorbed in a park that was in a drain between two ridges filled with subdivisions no more than 400 yards apart at the widest point. Same sort of deal in the city limits of Macon, Ga. (more on that in #3-b)

      3) Re your statement: “Wildlife needs wilderness, and future generations will not thank us for destroying their chances to experience untrammeled wilderness.”
      –> a) We already have a 109 million acres of “untrammeled wilderness” that isn’t any less trammeled than a lot of our other federal forest acres. That is roughly one acre for every 3 people in the US and that is just the declared wilderness. Future generations will thank us for that but we are talking about wilderness as being 14% of the total 766 million acres (see p14) of US forest acreage for all owners and equivalent to 33% of the total US federal forest acreage (though I presume that not all wilderness is classed as forest in the preceding link). Even if there is some slop in the numbers that I have dug up and referenced with links, the order of magnitude is a pretty strong statement of commitment to wilderness on the part of the US. When is enough enough?
      –> b) Wildlife can do pretty well without wilderness. Inside the city limits of Macon, Georgia I had wild turkey in my yard and a wonderful wood between my property line and the ridge above. The woods lay between my subdivision and the one at the top of the ridge right on the fall line. In Winnfield, Louisiana, I could step out my back door into an industrial forest after work or on the weekends and lose all track of time and have to feel my way back in the dark to where I could see my outdoor yard light. Sometimes when I stepped out back to take the dog out for the last time at night, my hair would stand up when I heard the local cougar cough. My wife and daughter even saw it one afternoon and didn’t know what it was until they saw that old TV advertisement for a Mercury Cougar with the live cougar siting on the automobile dealer’s sign and even then they couldn’t do anything but point to the ad and stammer until the add was over. 🙂 When I lived in Contra Costa county California and worked in San Francisco, I could get to the top of mount Diablo within a half hour, walk my dog, breathe the fresh air and watch the falcons flying down below me or I could go to Mt. Tam or the Muir woods. Here in the area around Columbus, MS. I picked up a wild turkey feather in our subdivision in the 20’ or so between our house and a neighbor’s house. There are plenty of birds to see just in my backyard and the forests and surrounding buffers mentioned above in item #2 include lots of wildlife to photograph from every kind of bird to plenty of mammals and even freshwater invertebrate colonies as well as beautiful forest scenes. No matter where you live you can find your own wilderness, peace, and find the joy that comes from being totally absorbed in that space rather than bemoaning what could have been if only you were richer and could take the time to travel to all the glorious places that intrigued you.

      4) Re your statement: “as long as the nearby private landowners take no steps to protect their own property from wildfires”
      –> What can a nearby private landowner do to protect their own property when they only have a couple thousand or less acres adjoining federal lands where nothing has been done to manage the federal property in order to minimize the risk of catastrophes occurring and spreading to the adjoining land owners. About all that such a landowner could do would be to clearcut his acreage, not build on it and then maintain it as a bare ground fire buffer at no charge to the feds and the neighbors. Catastrophic wildfires can jump a mile or more ahead if conditions are right to throw sparks that far. It’s not quite as simple and straightforward as it might seem.

  3. Just because it’s not “wilderness” doesn’t mean it’s not protected. I think wilderness “protection” can actually end up harming what you are trying to save. I think our “wild” areas are better “saved” by taking care of them with active management. I like to think wilderness starts outside your door and you can start by taking care of it there.

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