Commissioners raise concerns about Wild and Scenic River designation

Public comment period open

Representatives from

the Bridger-Teton National Forest discussed

a plan to inventory all waterways

on forest land with the Sublette County

Board of Commissioners on July 2. The

purpose of the inventory is to determine if

any of the waterways are eligible for Wild

and Scenic designation, said Pinedale District

Ranger Rob Hoelscher.

The inventory is required by law, Hoelscher

added. A press release issued by the

Bridger-Teton National Forest on July 2

Commissioners raise concerns about Wild and Scenic River designation

By Robert Galbreath, [email protected]

Public comment period open explained that a waterway inventory is required

as part of the 2012 Planning Rule

issued by the forest service and the 1968

Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The Forest Service created a “Story

Map” of the rivers to be studied and

posted it on its website,

btnf, to provide information to the public

about the inventory and a place for people

to comment.

The first step is to determine what waterways

are eligible for Wild and Scenic

designation. According to the link in the

press release, rivers must be “free flowing”

and have “at least one outstandingly

remarkable value.” The values can relate

to recreation, culture, history, geology,

scenery, wildlife and fisheries.

The result of the inventory is a draft eligibility

report listing any rivers that meet

the criteria. The Forest Service will only

make a final decision on what rivers will

receive eligibility when the Forest Plan is

revised, said the press release.

Cindy Stein, BTNF recreation program

manager, said that the process is intended

to include the public at each step.

“This (inventory) is just an exercise to

determine what’s out there and determine

priorities related to the management process,”

she said. “There are many steps in

the project for public involvement.”

Commission Chairman David Burnett

and Commissioner Tom Noble asked

what impact a Wild and Scenic designation

would have on nearby development

and private property. Stein explained that

a Wild and Scenic designation has “more

stringent regulations.” She added, however,

that designating a waterway as Wild

and Scenic is “not the step we are taking

now.” Designation as Wild and Scenic is

a years-long process requiring an act of


Stein said that if a river receives the

category of “eligible” for designation, the

Forest Service will manage the waterway

to “retain the recreational, fishing and

water quality,” but there will not be as

many restrictions in place.

Stein cited the example of the Green

River. That waterway, within the national

forest and wilderness area, is an eligible

waterway. If there was a request to build

a dam on the eligible portion of the river,

the builders would have to go through an

environmental impact and analysis before

they can build. If the river was designated

as Wild and Scenic, Stein said building a

dam would not even be a consideration.

Once a waterway receives wild and

scenic designation, the Forest Service

“steps up” the regulations that will “involve

more discussion” between private

property owners and the Forest Service. If

a private property owner wanted to build

flood control or irrigation headgates on a

designated river, they now have three entities

to work with: the US Army Corps

of Engineers, county planning and zoning

and the Forest Service.

“The Forest Service takes the lead (once

a river is designated) and this could have

an impact on private property,” Stein said.

“On the Snake River (a Wild and Scenic

waterway), for example, private entities

might want to put in flood control. But

with the designation, this can be more restrictive

because the (flood control) might

have the potential to impact the remainder

of the river.”

Hoelschler stressed that regulations on

a wild and scenic river “really only affect

private land” within forest administered

areas,” and not development downstream.

Commissioner Joel Bousman insisted

the commissioners be involved in the

process of going through the criteria to

establish an eligible or wild and scenic

waterway rather than leave the decisions

up to “someone sitting in the back of the


“If there’s one thing I’m adamant about,

it is that we have a seat at the table when

that discussion (on criteria) is occurring.”

Bousman also expressed concern that

the Forest Service is “underplaying the

impact” that designating a river as eligible

or Wild and Scenic will have on water

diversion, headgates and irrigation for


“We’re not trying to take anyone’s

water rights away,” Stein responded. “But

there are steps they would have to go

through (if a waterway receives the designation).”

Commissioner Mack Rawhouser asked

if the process of designating waterways is

similar to the wilderness study area project,

or WSA. He argued that once an area

is designated “eligible” to be a WSA, it

may “just as well be wilderness.”

“When we start designating something

or we start putting it into that (eligible)

category, we’re stuck and we can’t get out

of it,” he said.

Stein responded that there some were

differences between WSA and Wild and

Scenic waterway eligibility. On the Green

River, for example, while the river is eligible,

there have been “no further changes

on the headgates” or restrictions. The Forest

Service will only step in if there is a

concern over water quality.

Bousman said that wilderness and wild

and scenic designations were a “fallacy,”

and led to overuse and the destruction of

the area that is to be protected.

“People from all over the world will

want to flock to the Green River because it

is wild and scenic,” he said. “(The Forest

Service) is putting rivers up for destruction

by over-advertising.”

Bousman added that the Forest Service

is “not prepared” to limit the number of

people to a waterway once it received eligibility

or designation as wild and scenic.

Stein and Hoelschler emphasized that

the commissioners put their concerns on

the public comment website. The public

can comment on the project through the

website, throughout

the summer or by mail. Comments

received by July 19 will “be most useful

moving forward,” the press release stated.


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