Public's top forest plan topics: Wilderness, OHV use

2012-02-09T16:55:00Z 2012-02-10T00:00:24Z Public's top forest plan topics: Wilderness, OHV useBy MARTIN KIDSTON mkidston@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

THERMOPOLIS, Wyo. — Protecting wilderness and roadless areas while finding additional opportunities for off-highway-vehicle (OHV) users emerged as popular themes in public comments received by Shoshone National Forest officials.

Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander said the agency received nearly 800 public comments over the past month, primarily from Wyoming and Montana.

“It’s not a popularity contest,” Alexander said. “We don’t say that since we have 257 comments supporting more wilderness that we’re going to add more wilderness because only 152 people wrote in against it.

“It’s only to give you (cooperators) an idea on what the public is talking about — the public that you represent — and what’s on their mind.”

Alexander shared the comments with cooperating partners on Thursday in Thermopolis, where officials gathered to kick off a two-day planning session aimed at building the Shoshone’s new management plan.

Alexander said the agency received 786 comments since it opened the public comment phase last month. He reviewed the comments before Thursday’s meeting to get a sense of what the public was looking for in the new plan.

While the comments touch on a variety of issues, Alexander said, the Dunoir special management area, along with the Wood River, Franks Peak and Trout Creek proposed wilderness areas, generated the most public support.

“There were some things hit on a lot more than others, and there was a lot of discussion on wilderness,” Alexander said. “The Dunoir was far and away the most popular wilderness. There was discussion about maintaining roadless areas and not putting more motorized use in there, especially OHV use.”

At the same time, Alexander said, a number of comments also represented the OHV community, which has lobbied Park County commissioners for support over the past month.

Alexander said the county’s involvement helped “motivate the base” of OHV users, who are seeking additional riding opportunities in parts of the forest.

“There were a lot of comments centered around that in both directions,” Alexander said. “Some wrote in favor of more OHV use and others were against it.

“It’s probably a tie in popularity between discussions on wilderness and OHV trails and roads. They seemed to be the most popular things that people talked about in the comments.”

Several comments also addressed big game winter range, invasive species, increased mountain bike opportunities and support for grizzly bears and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

There also were comments on climate change. Alexander said they asked forest officials to take the projections of continued warming into consideration as the agency forges its new plan.

Alexander said five or six comments were in favor of pack goats, though grazing and timber didn’t generate much interest from the public. Snowmobile access came up several times in the comments, Alexander said, as did roadless areas.

“A lot of people came to Wyoming, or are from Wyoming, and wrote about how they love the backcountry and love the Shoshone,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, and they want to see that continue.”

Cooperating agency officials, who represent the public at large, will take the comments into consideration as they work with the Shoshone to build a forest plan that caters to a wide array of interests.

Park, Hot Springs and Freemont counties are involved in the planning efforts, along with their conservation districts.

Wyoming Game and Fish, the Governor’s Office, the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality are also involved in the effort.

The talks kicked off Thursday in Thermopolis and will continue through Friday afternoon.

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