The Recreation Forest

When people talk about recreation in the Shoshone National Forest, one phrase keeps re-appearing whether it’s about climbing, hiking, or paddling: World Class. The forest boasts glaciers and mountains and wild country.

“This is big country with hanging valleys and granite spires,” said Aaron Bannon, the environmental stewardship and sustainability director with the Lander-based National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

There are peaks to test your mettle and beauty that will leave you awestruck. The forest spans three mountain ranges. There are the granite Wind River Mountains, the volcanic Absarokas and the Beartooth Plateau.

Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton

“It’s just a spectacular place,” Bannon said.

The U.S. Forest Service released several potential plans for managing the 2.4 million acre forest on July 30 that could impact recreation from snowmobiling and all-terrain vehicles, to horse packing and ice climbing.

People have a chance to weigh in on the plan for the next 90 days and learn more about how it will impact you and your sport of choice at public meetings in the fall.

I know, forest plans are boring. But if you backpack in the Wind River Range, or snowmobile on Togwotee Pass or ice climb near Cody, this is a plan you might want to pay attention to, and share your thoughts.

“I think we’re pretty famous for backcountry, particularly wilderness,” said Carrie Christman, forest planner.

The Shoshone is 60 percent wilderness and if the forest moves forward with its preferred plan, that will stay the same.

The preferred alternative doesn’t call for any new wilderness designation, in part because so much already is wilderness and other areas, such as the DuNoir Special Management Area, have wilderness-like protections. In the new plan, these protections would include a prohibition of mountain biking and snowmobiling that could displace some users.

While most people hadn’t had a chance to thoroughly study the plan, people have shared some initial thoughts and hopes as it moves forward.

Al Sammons is the public lands representative with Wind River Backcountry Horsemen.

“Our goal is to keep public lands open for public horse use,” he said.

The group, which has about 90 members, not including the approximately 120 members of the Shoshone Backcountry Horsemen, has been involved in the planning process since it started several years ago. “Recreation best fits the kind of forest we have,” Sammons said.

The preferred alternative is dominated by backcountry use. Timber harvest under the current budget is proposed to stay the same, while areas for surface development for oil and gas decreases by 10 percent.

Summer motorized use is the same, with potential for expansion for access for all terrain vehicles, which are growing in popularity, Christman said. There are areas in which additional trails for ATVs are compatible with other use.

Perhaps one of the most contentious areas of the plan deals with about a square-mile on Togwotee Pass that some backcountry skiers would like closed to snowmobilers.

Ted Knowles, who has been snowmobiling on Togwotee Pass since he moved into the area in 1977, said he’s seen little changes in access for snowmobilers.

“And as far as I’m concerned, there don’t need to be any changes,” he said.

The pass is home to some of the best, and only, snowmobiling in the area he said.

Some backcountry skiers want a small area on Two Oceans peak closed to snowmobiles, worrying about accidents between snowmobilers and skiers or machine-triggered avalanches trapping skiers.

Forrest McCarthy, public lands director for the Winter Wildlands Alliance said that while it was disappointing the area wasn’t closed to snow machine traffic in the preferred alternative it is important that a management plan for winter travel — and at least a small closure — is under consideration as an alternative.

The preferred alternative made no change to the current boundaries because snowmobiling and skiing are not incompatible in the area, Christman said.

The preferred alternative could change. Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander is expected to visit the area this winter.

As for NOLS, they will be scrutinizing any rules that could limit group size, Bannon said. The organization, famous for its “Leave No Trace” method of backcountry travels, runs trips of up to 15 people in the Wind River Mountain Range. The proposed plan does not dictate a number or cap on group size, but does mention creating a cap as part of its management strategies.

The plan seemed to take into account the importance of recreation, Bannon said.

He said he anticipates a balanced final plan.

An official 90-day commenting period began Aug.  4 and ends Nov. 1. The plan is expected to be released in summer 2013 and a final record of decision is expected in winter of 2014.

For more information, click here.

Public meetings will be held during the commenting period:

  • Sept. 24: 5 to 7 p.m., Cody, Big Horn Federal Savings Bank at 1701 Stampede Ave
  • Sept. 26: 5 to 7 p.m. Lander, Monarch Hall, 150 East Main St.
  • Sept. 27:  5 to 7 p.m. Thermopolis Big Horn Federal Savings Bank, 643 Broadway

 

To comment, write:

Shoshone National Forest

Forest Plan Comments

808 Meadow Lane Avenue

Cody, WY 82414

Email: shoshone_forestplan@fs.fed.us

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com.

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Published on August 7, 2012

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