SHERIDAN — The Bighorn National Forest continues to seek public comment on the proposed Buffalo municipal watershed project. Forest officials gave an update on the project along with other accomplishments, efforts and issues, including dispersed camping and stocking levels, during its Steering Committee meeting June 1.
Acting forest supervisor Kim Yellowtail-Albea said the public comment period started June 2 and runs through July 3. The project aims to enhance the long-term water quality in the watershed by reducing existing and potential sedimentation sources.
Yellowtail-Albea said while sedimentation is a main concern, another concern is its risk of wildfires. Maps and additional information on the project is available on the Bighorn National Forest website.
Currently, Yellowtail-Albea said the special order for camping is up for renewal. With several different orders in place on the forest that are dependent on the area, she said the USFS is making an effort to standardize the rules and make them easier for the public to understand while at the same time solving occupancy issues.
“Honestly it’s an issue on the forest,” Yellowtail-Albea said. “There are a lot of campers there, a lot of campers that are left there unoccupied and everybody loves to recreate up there. They love to take their camper up there and leave it for the summer.”
She said to do address the issue, the USFS will take into consideration comments and opinions raised during the Big Horn Mountain Coalition’s series of public workshops, which started in March 2016.
The outcome of the workshops was presented during the committee meeting.
The workshops included the four counties represented in the coalition — Big Horn, Johnson, Sheridan and Washakie — and also included an online survey.
“There was just a whole range of comments on every side of that issue,” Yellowtail-Albea said.
She added that comments varied and included those that said they didn’t want any rules, to those that said there were too many campers left on the mountain.
Stocking levels and sustainability were also discussed during the meeting.
Yellowtail-Albea said the level of grazing that has been permitted in recent years has been below the level established in the Forest Plan due to resource conditions, and multiple stakeholders discussed concerns during the meeting.
Yellowtail-Albea said this year ranchers may be able to fulfill their entire permit because of the amount of rainfall. She said during other years with low rainfall, the USFS may have to ask them to bring cattle and sheep out of grazing areas early.
USFS public affairs specialist Susie Douglas said grazing permits are issued for 10-year terms, but every year ranchers receive annual operating instructions with the conditions of the area and what they’re allowed to do.
“It’s the level of grazing as long as the resources are in good shape,” Douglas said. She later said, “We have to balance meeting the needs of the livestock growers with our responsibility to manage the natural resources.”
Yellowtail-Albea said no decision was made on the topic and that the meeting acted as a good forum for each party to present concerns.
“We’re not just trying to hold a hard and fast line about this is all you can do and we’re going to make you do less and less,” Yellowtail-Albea said. “But that we are really trying to be flexible where we can.”