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B-T nears forest plan revision

October 9, 2017 GMT

The 3.4-million-acre national forest that surrounds much of Jackson Hole is on the cusp of overhauling its overarching plan for the first time in nearly three decades.

The “land and resource management plan” for the Bridger-Teton, also known as the “forest plan,” dates to 1990 and was in the early stages of being revised in 2010 when a developing and pertinent U.S. Forest Service planning rule halted the process. The rule now completed, the Bridger-Teton has appointed one of its staffers as an interim coordinator overseeing the rebooted revision and is on the hunt for additional employees to redo its foremost planning document.

“We’re still hoping to start the process this year,” Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor said.

The hang-up on entering full-fledged revision mode is funding and staffing.

Forest plan revisions are “a lot of effort,” O’Connor said, and completing the process requires four or five additional full-time employees for a handful of years. Under the current presidential administration all full-time hiring within the federal agency requires approval from above, which has not yet been granted.

“We have to go through a process and put in a proposal to hire people permanently,” O’Connor said, “and we’re still waiting to hear.”

The Bridger-Teton is next in line for a revision among the 13 forests in the Forest Service’s Intermountain Region, she said. The region has put in a funding request with its parent agency that would allow the western Wyoming forest to proceed.

Across the Continental Divide in the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, the Shoshone National Forest revised its forest plan in the years leading up to 2015. The outcome was a plan acclaimed as a compromise, and generally agreed upon by stakeholder groups who didn’t always see eye to eye.

The document recommended no new wilderness areas, designated 5 percent percent of Shoshone suitable for logging, banned recreational pack goats from much of the forest and removed mountain bikes from the Dunoir Special Management Area.

Forest plans are massive conceptual documents that supervisor O’Connor likened to zoning.

“It’s like setting broad general objectives for pieces of ground on the forest,” the Bridger-Teton supervisor said. “We have places in the forest, for example, where the emphasis is for wildlife habitat. There are certain things prohibited in those areas and certain things you allow.”

In the first year, the Bridger-Teton’s staff would review what’s salvageable from the revision process that was started before being stopped in 2010. In this assessment phase, O’Connor said, planners would also identify what’s working well under the current plan and what needs changing.

The remainder of the lengthy process consists mostly of preparing and revising an environmental impact statement, which involves taking extensive public input and responding accordingly.

The Forest Service has a new goal for its forest plans to take no more than five years.

“That’s an impressive goal and, I think, a good goal,” O’Connor said. “The more focused you can be, the better. These things take five, seven years, and it’s tough for the pubic to stay engaged.”