PINEDALE – As the Sublette County advisory group continued to explore future management of three wilderness study areas, members heard appeals for “wilderness.”
The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative’s local advisory group of eight members representing different interests met Wednesday, Dec. 6, to refine their options for the county’s three wilderness study areas – Lake Mountain, Shoal Creek and Scab Creek.
The Bureau of Land Management inventoried Lake Mountain and Scab Creek WSAs decades ago, as the Forest Service Shoal Creek, as potential wilderness areas, but their status has never been resolved by Congress.
The Wyoming County Commissioners Association kicked off the WPLI’s statewide effort last year; the Sublette County Board of Commissioners opted in and appointed advisory group members from
interested applicants. The WPLI goal is to have local advisory groups schedule public meetings for feedback as they work to determine the best possible management scenarios for each area.
On Dec. 6, University of Wyoming facilitator Steve Smutko guided members Dan Smitherman, Monte Skinner, Mike Crosson, Coke Landers, Mike Henn and Bill Lanning on the phone (with Mike Smith and Dave Bell absent) through a series of discussions.
They are generating management options that could range from designated wilderness to full release – and almost anything in between. Each meeting has two comment periods for public input and questions.
The Sublette WPLI first toured the 13,865-acre Lake Mountain WSA in the county’s southwest corner and has posted a broad list of options on its website, sublettewpli.org.
It next toured parts of Shoal Creek WSA on two public field trips by horse, dirt bike, ATV and foot. Town hall meetings were conducted for all three; however, the Scab Creek WSA tour was cancelled due to heavy wildfire smoke.
For Lake Mountain, the group focused on double-checking “interests and options” to compile one document and “basically an assessment of what’s on the ground,” Smutko explained.
He will create three such documents, one for each WSA, by the next Jan. 3 meeting
“I think this is a very useful tool,” Landers said of the template.
Shoal Creek WSA
Smitherman asked if the Sublette group wants to meet with the Teton subcommittee, which he is also on, to create a “joint proposal” for the Shoal Creek WSA, since the area includes about 20,000 acres in Sublette County and about 12,000 acres in Teton County. It would expand the 317,874-acre Gros Ventre Wilderness
Skinner wanted their group to review the southern portion.
“Down there it’s a completely different story,” he said. “I would feel very comfortable working with Teton County north of Dell Creek, but not south.”
Lanning wasn’t “opposed to working with a subcommittee” but drawing a “geopolitical line” through the WSA “doesn’t make sense.”
Smitherman said “motorized interests” want to give their input. “There’s a unified interest in snowmobiles across the WSAs.”
“I would like to see us on the same page (with Shoal Creek) before we move on to work with them,” Lanning said. Crosson agreed.
“I echo Crosson,” Henn said. “It’s better for us to keep marching forward; it would expedite the process.”
Smitherman summed up that the Sublette group will develop its recommendation and meet with Teton County WPLI later. They all agreed. Smitherman had turned in his recommendations for all three WSAs early on.
“It’s going to be the bread and butter for us,” Landers said of Shoal Creek’s priority.
Outfitter Pat Maier presented his “personal and professional” thoughts for his business, Green River Bridger Teton Outfitters, based out of Craig Cabins in Hoback Basin.
“I would like to see as much wilderness as possible,” he said, because nonresident hunters are required to get guides. He also spoke about snowmobiling from Craig Cabins.
“The actual cabin is in the WSA right now,” Landers told him.
Skinner commented “it’s a shame” there are no developed campsites there.
In closing, Maier said he wasn’t “passionate” about one designation or another – “I just had some concerns.”
Smutko passed out their options he compiled into one document after the November meeting. “This is where we are on Shoal Creek.”
“We’ve talked about options,” Smitherman said. “What’s not on there is the extent.”
The group asked Smutko to add more specifics. Crosson would like a “huntable bighorn sheep population” with a small buffer from motorized use. Lanning added “continued snowmobiling” and Skinner brought up use of chainsaws.
Scab Creek WSA
Under new business, the group “brainstormed” Scab Creek. Its 7,636 acres are next to the Bridger Wilderness with 428,087 acres.
Mountain Springs Ranch owner Dewitt “Dee” Morris addressed the group. His ranch is adjacent to the WSA and Morris uses its dirt roads and trails to expand his Camp Green River Outreach for Wilderness activities and allow select people access through his ranch, he said.
He said he favors designating it as wilderness.
“However, not if that closed all the roads up there. We use these roads.”
He brought a large map to show “cherry-stemming” the roads, one to the Bridger boundary, allows people to use the roads without encroaching on wilderness.
“If we do 20 feet from the centerline and it goes to the boundary, it cuts the WSA in half,” Lanning said. He pointed out the BLM has a 1/2-mile strip between the ranch and existing wilderness.
Smitherman suggested the cherry-stemmed roads could be shortened.
Crosson had wildlife questions for Morris, noting Wyoming Game and Fish maps show a large elk calving ground and core sage-grouse area over much of the WSA as well as moose, deer and elk migration routes.
Lanning said the BLM is developing regulations for wildlife migration, calving and winter ranges. He said the only motorized routes are the three dirt roads and that a mechanism allowing chainsaws to clear trails is needed.
Henn brought up invasive weeds, mainly cheatgrass, that can’t be managed if Scab Creek becomes a wilderness.
“It’s a rock pile,” he said. “If it’s put into management as wilderness, we’re handcuffed by the ability to do habitat improvement projects. Boulder Canyon is gone with cheatgrass. We can’t manage that vegetation that we need to be able to address.”
Henn wondered why roads should be cherry-stemmed if Morris and other landowners “have the only access to it. There’s no public access to the trails.”
Skinner agreed the public cannot access the WSA. “People there don’t want to open it up. They want to block everyone’s access.”
“There still won’t be public access to it unless whoever the landowner is allows it,” Lanning said.
Crosson asked if the dirt roads are “legal now.”
“Those two-tracks should not be used (in the) WSA,” Lanning said. “The use stops at the WSA boundary.”
Smitherman said “wilderness” designations give permanence whereas BLM management plans “could change next week.” As for weed control, he told Henn it can be done in a wilderness. “It’s just how you do it.”
The BLM has more management opportunities than the Forest Service, Landers said.
Henn said it can’t be managed with crosscut saws and foot crews. “We’ve just handicapped ourselves.”
Skinner noted Scab Creek “has a very nice campground” and suggested a mountain bike trail through it.
“Bikes are a mechanized use,” Lanning agreed. “That rock pile up there would probably be very attractive to mountain bikers. I can see it happening.”
The group agreed use of bikes and other mechanics are increasing even into hunting to pack out meat.
“We’re going to see more and more bikes,” Landers agreed.