SHERIDAN — The Bighorn Forest Roadless Collaborative met Wednesday to discuss the forest plan in the first of three sections of the Bighorn National Forest. The group examined the forest north of U.S. Route 14 and 14A.
The Collaborative, which is a diverse group made up of people from the timbering business to wilderness organizations, has a main purpose of assessing inventoried roadless areas in Wyoming’s national forests and recommending management actions. With inconsistencies between the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule and the 2005 Bighorn National Forest Revised Land and Resource Management Plan, the Collaborative is to address these variations and through public process, determine a management proposal.
Collaborative Co-Chairs Keith Grant and Larry Durante said the 2001 Roadless Rule, which established prohibitions on road construction and timber harvesting, was deemed illegal, so during the five-year operation of putting together the 2005 Plan, the Rule wasn’t even considered. Because of this, when conservation groups fought to affirm the 2001 Rule and won in 2012, the 2005 plan was overturned.
“The 2001 Forest Rule was put in a blanket; they didn’t do a good inventory of what was roadless and what wasn’t,” Grant said, explaining that the rule includes areas with miles of roads and areas that had already been timber harvested. He said work on the 2005 Plan was extensive and detailed.
This is what the Collaborative is dealing with now. Many areas of the Bighorns overlap both plans. However, the 2001 Rule includes more than 200,000 miles of additional land. While the 2005 Forest Plan includes areas designated for pristine wilderness to recreation and existing and potential ski-based resorts, the group must decide its recommendations and borders for each area.
“We looked it all over and looked at the prescription areas,” Grant said, “and came to an agreement that [the 2005 Plan] was a good plan and that we can support it.”
Durante said a common concern is how the Collaborative’s decisions will affect ATV traffic. In the end, he said, it won’t.
“If there’s a road there now, it’s going to be there when we’re done,” Durante said. “You know, we’re not opening or closing more roads at this time. That’s not what we’re advocating.”
Bighorn National Forest Public Affairs Specialist Susan Douglas said she thought the group made good progress in Wednesday’s meeting in addressing inventoried roadless areas, but she expressed concerns about how the group is slacking in making the information available to the public. This was evident in the minuscule turnout at the public meeting. After the group addressed the concern, agreeing that things like evening meetings and posted agendas were necessary, Douglas said she believes the members are committed to communicating progress and making materials more available on the Web.
Durante said the Collaborative has two more areas to address, which will be done in public meetings, and he’s hoping to have a proposal to put before the public during multiple meetings by February. There will be an information session Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Worland Community Center Complex.
The next meeting will be Dec. 14 in Greybull at 10 a.m. and will discuss the middle area of the Bighorn Mountains, from around Dayton to the middle of Cloud Peak Wilderness.