Error stalls fire plan
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
June 8, 2012
The Bridger-Teton National Forest has stopped the release of a study proposing an 87,000-acre fuels reduction project along the western side of the valley because of a problem with the mapping of the Palisades Wilderness Study Area.
In an email to interested parties obtained by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, Bridger-Teton officials say the study is basically complete but will be withheld from the public until the Palisades study area boundary issue is resolved. The boundary is important because the study area has to be managed to preserve wilderness qualities, and the fuels reduction project must comply with the wilderness law.
The fuels reduction project, which is proposed to stretch from Grand Teton National Park to the south end of the valley, would use logging, burning and other methods to reduce the threat of forest fires to private homes. Officials say the project also would allow managers to let fire play its natural role in the study area.
“We are going to have to put the Teton to Snake EA on hold,” Michael Johnston, the Bridger-Teton’s fire management officer for the Jackson district, said in the email. “We are actively working to resolve this issue ... ”
Two former Teton County commissioners wrote a letter about the discrepancy between the Congressionally designated boundary of the wilderness study area and maps being used by the Bridger-Teton.
The commissioners, Bill Ashley and Mary “Muffy” Moore, wrote forest supervisor Jacque Buchanan on Wednesday and traced the roots of the boundary issue back nearly 35 years.
The Palisades area was originally recommended for wilderness protection in September 1978, when Bridger-Teton officials were sculpting the second “Roadless Area Review and Evaluation,” Ashley and Moore said. In 1984 the Wyoming Wilderness Act passed by Congress designated the Palisades area southwest of Wilson a legally protected wilderness study area.
The 1984 act referred to the roadless evaluation for the study area boundary. The act also required that Bridger-Teton officials prepare a “complete map and legal description” for the Palisades Wilderness Study Area “as soon as possible.” That task was never completed, according to Ashley and Moore. Instead, other maps emerged that show the study area boundary in different locations than in the roadless evaluation.
“We recently learned that the Forest Service has [still not] prepared the required map and legal description,” their letter said. “It appears the Forest Service may have ‘replaced’ the RARE boundaries by internal action, which seems contrary to the law.”
A conservationist who used to live in Jackson and was instrumental in forming the 1984 act said the federal agency made the right decision by suspending the release of the fuels reduction proposal.
“I applaud them for deciding to hold the [environmental analysis] until this boundary problem is fully researched and resolved from the archival material,” Phil Hocker said in a telephone interview from his home in the Washington, D.C., area.
There could be a half-mile discrepancy between the lawful boundary and the one on Bridger-Teton maps, Hocker, said.
As of Thurdsay, there was no new expected release date for the fuel reduction study.
“We were planning on posting the [assessment] tomorrow but that will now be on hold until further notice,” Johnston said in his email. “We do not know how long it will take to work through this process ... ”