The Shoshone National Forest will soon have a new management plan to guide land use for the next 10 to 20 years. While it won’t include recommendations for any new wilderness, it will protect areas for future designation.
After reviewing objections to the plan the Forest Service decided to ban motorized travel in the Wood River and Francs Peak areas, and ban mountain biking in the Dunoir Special Management Area.
After almost 10 years of work, a review of objections to the draft final plan is one of the final steps before implementing new management guidelines. The Forest Service started the objection process in 2013. After a draft final plan is created by the agency, those who made comments throughout the planning process have a chance to file objections. A reviewing officer, in this case Forest Service Deputy Chief Jane Cottrell, and an advisory team, will evaluate the objections and decide whether the plan needs further changes.
The Forest Service received about 70 objections on the Shoshone plan, said Kristie Salzmann, spokeswoman for the Shoshone National Forest. The objections ran the gamut of the plan, but the Wood River, Francs Peak and Dunoir areas garnered the most comments.
Most of Cottrell’s instructions called for clarifying points in the plan, Salzmann said. The major changes were banning mountain bikes in the Dunoir Special Management area and not allowing motorized use in the Francs Peak and Wood River areas.
The changes were celebrated by groups such as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Wyoming Wilderness Association.
The Wyoming Wilderness Association had three major issues with the draft final management plan for the forest. They opposed allowing mountain bikes in the Dunoir Special Management Area and opening the Wood River and Francs Peak areas to motorized use, which the Forest Service added to the plan in the final draft.
They also objected to the fact the plan didn’t include any new recommended wilderness.
While the organization was disappointed to see no new wilderness recommendations, overall the objection process yielded meaningful change, said Sarah Walker, Shoshone wildlands organizer with the Wyoming Wilderness Association.
Cottrell met with objectors in Cody to talk about the issues. The Wood River and Francs Peak areas have amazing wildlife, from one of the most coveted bighorn sheep populations in the state, to high-density moth feeding sites for grizzly bears, Walker said. Keeping those areas roadless protects the wilderness characteristics.
“It preserves the hope for future wilderness designation as opposed to an irreversible management decision,” Walker said.
Walker wants to work with the mountain bike community to identify areas for non-motorized trails. She said she believes in multi-use on public lands. “Just not in the congressional protected Dunoir,” she said.
Dana Sander, president of the Northwest Wyoming Off Highway Vehicle Alliance, said he worked for eight years to advocate for motorized trails in the Wood River and Francs Peak areas, and believed his group had succeeded when the final draft came out. He was surprised to see the areas designated roadless after the objection period.
“The result I saw was the Forest Service just buckled under the pressure during the objection process,” he said. “We had no say in it and now it’s done and we have to live with it.”
Sander and others happy with the draft didn’t file objections, which meant they were not invited to take part in discussions during the objection process.
Sander would have argued against claims that the proposed roads would threaten grizzly bear feeding sites. He also would have stressed the growing number of people who use off-road vehicles, especially older people who love the outdoors.
“It seems if you object, you can participate,” he said. “We would have objected, even though we agreed with the plan, to make sure we were part of the final discussion.”
Tim Young, executive director for Wyoming Pathways, agreed the objection process was exclusionary. “The objectors meeting was like a vote and mountain bikers weren’t at the table,” he said.
Young was pleased when the draft plan allowed continued mountain bike use in the Dunoir. The Pinnacle Butte Trail is a challenging loop that, for 6.5 miles, crosses into the Dunoir Special Management Area. The few mountain bikers who ride the trail seek solitude and a wild adventure. By banning bikes the Forest Service created a “de facto wilderness,” he said. “And creating wilderness is the job of congress, not a forest management plan.”
Young said that in the future he may object to a plan even if he likes it, to make sure he can remain part of the conversation during the objection period.
Dubois resident Robert Hoskins, who opposed bikes in the Dunoir and new motorized trails in the Wood River and Francs Peak areas, also was disappointed with the objection process. He wanted new wilderness recommendations.
“I didn’t really expect much out of the objection process, and we didn’t get much,” he said. “We can’t force the Forest Service in court to recommend wilderness.”
Hoskins said he was so discouraged with the process he’s uncertain whether he will comment on future Forest Service plans.
The Shoshone National Forest staff will incorporate the changes from the objection process into a final plan, which will be finalized with a Record of Decision in about 90 days.
Clarification: Those happy with the plan could have participated in the review process by filing as an “interested person” related to a specific objection. — Ed
For more on this topic, read these WyoFile reports:
Forest backpedals on bike ban in the Dunoir, January 2014
Fight brews over proposed motorized access to Franc’s Peak, March 2014
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Wonderful, gutsy move on the part of the Forest Service.