Forest Collaborative discusses what’s next

Rusty Kaiser addresses the public and other partners in the Sublette County Forest Collaborative in April at a meeting in Bondurant. Those priorities have changed to deal with the impacts from the Roosevelt Fire.

Roosevelt Fire’s aftermath shifts group's priorities

SUBLETTE COUNTY – A group from

county, state and federal agencies met Dec.

14 at the Pinedale Fire Hall to choose a direction

after the recent Roosevelt Fire affected

some of its planned habitat and fuels

reduction projects.

The Sublette County Forest Collaborative

meets publicly with the goals of applying

for and using Joint Chiefs of Staff

grants and other moneys to benefit forest

and wildlife health, water quality, recreation

and habitat improvements.

The group includes Sublette County

Weed & Pest, Sublette County Conservation

District, Sublette County Unified Fire,

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Bureau of

Land Management’s Pinedale Field Office

and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Members of the public also attended the recent

meeting.

The “Monument Ridge Vegetation and

Recreation Management Project” was introduced

to about 20 part- and full-time

Hoback Ranches and Bondurant residents

at an April 19 public meeting at the Bondurant

Fire Hall. It is in the Big Piney Ranger

District.

At that time, BTNF’s Rusty Kaiser explained

the agencies were working together

to thin conifers, repair the Clark’s

Draw road to the fire lookout, treat invasive

weeds, reduce wildfire risks, prescribe

slash burns and move a year-round trailhead

along Highway 191 across from Jack Creek

Road to the Hoback Guard Station.

Some parts are started, some are completed

– and some burned up with the recent

Roosevelt Fire that destroyed the

Kismet Peak cell tower, 55 homes, fences

and plenty of wildfire fuel.

Priority shift?

First on the Forest Collaborative’s Dec.

Rusty Kaiser addresses the public and other partners in the Sublette

County Forest Collaborative in April at a meeting in Bondurant. Those

priorities have changed to deal with the impacts from the Roosevelt Fire.

14 agenda was the question – “Is there a

priority shift in projects due to the Roosevelt

Fire?”

Monument Ridge in the Hoback Basin is

its main project with prescribed burns and

mechanical treatments previously scheduled

for the near future. The project area

has a “categorical exclusion” designation.

Big Piney District Ranger Don Kranendonk

related the “situation on the ground

there” as having social and economic impacts

to residents from the Roosevelt Fire,

with homes burned, people displaced, grazing

and hunting postponed and trails and

roads breaking down.

“I think Monument Ridge is still an important

project,” he said. “Relevant and

viable. The question I have is what our

partners’ and the community’s sentiments

are on that.”

Rebuilding and stabilizing the Clark’s

Draw dirt road, accessed from Highway

191, is ready to proceed with $70,000 from

Joint Chiefs’ grant put toward that. Kranendonk

said the county is helping; he expects

that to cost as much as $100,000.

“I will add more (money) to that road,”

he said. “We had an agreement for the road

up to Monument Ridge from the parking

lot. We removed vegetation and graded out

the trail – that left a lot of vegetation treatment

that is needed.”

Kranendonk said he wanted to “go forward

with the Joint Chiefs (funds) by shifting

some requests for vegetation treatment

to mitigating” impacts on trails and roads

for recreation and water quality. As for the

entire Hoback Basin watershed, a $500,000

grant was approved elsewhere for a study.

Of mechanical treatments, Kranendonk

wanted first to evaluate the wildfire’s aftereffects.

For example, livestock grazing permittees

will be “displaced for two years” so the

burn can recover. That could affect where

and what treatments take place.

SCCD Manager Mike Henn said Monument

Ridge is still a valid project with a lot

of federal money already spent. He advised

delaying prescribed burns for two years in

consideration of the community’s feelings.

He pointed to the adjacent Cliff Creek

Fire of 2016 that also displaced grazing,

hunting and recreation for two years.

“What are the feelings of the biologists

and specialists here about migration corridors

being impacted in the future?” asked

SCUF Chief Shad Cooper. “One of the benefits

(of the Monument Ridge Project) was

to enhance mule deer habitat. Will the Roosevelt

Fire change that pattern and habitat

for mule deer?”

Kaiser said the burn might change stopovers

slightly but vegetation will grow back

quickly.

“Mule deer have a ton of fidelity to almost

walking in their footprints from the

year before,” added Game and Fish habitat

biologist Jill Randall, adding “important

habitat” was burned.

Also, moose need more tree cover than

mule deer, something to consider with conifer

treatments after so many trees burned,

she said.

“It calls for more of a scalpel approach

than broad treatments,” she said. “But there

are still conifer-encroached aspens, which

was a lot of the original reason to go there

(with proposed burns).”

The fire also changes plans for a small

Monument Ridge timber sale, according to

BTNF’s Paul Swenson. “What was viable

is burned up.”

BLM’s Mark Thonoff said hazardous

fuels near Kismet Peak

“are all taken care of

now” and the transmission

tower destroyed.

The county has an insurance

check to rebuild

the station.

BTNF’s Paul Marone

said the fuels

group still wants to

make Bondurant “more

resilient to wildfire.”

The Collaborative generally

advised evaluating

wildfire risks east

of the Hoback Rim toward

the Upper Green

and other areas.

Henn said, “The east

side of the Rim is still

a priority of this collaborative.”

Pinedale District

Ranger Rob Hoelscher

said he needs to know

very soon where to

focus next – Monument

Ridge or other places

where fuels reduction

needs to be done.

“If I have 10 people,

am I going to put those

10 people on Monument

or do I put those

10 people on Packer

Miner?” he asked.

Jennifer Hayward

of Natural Resources

Conservation Service

voiced “social” community concerns for

proceeding with Monument Ridge projects

like prescribed burns. She is working

with several Bondurant grazing permittees;

also, she and Weed & Pest’s Julie Kraft

helped about 30 homeowners look at how

to prevent erosion, what to plant and how

to safely reclaim their properties.

“Fire on that landscape – that has to be

Jill Randall speaks with Tom Rooks in April about the Monument Ridge Project.

Joy Ufford photos

way scary for them that there are still fire

risks,” she said. “How could we explain to

them we are still interested in doing this?”

Kranendonk said the collaborative has

to decide – soon – what specifically is

next.

“Sitting down to have that conversation

is a priority now,” he said. “The impacts

of the fire to me are social. The social aspect

is number one right now in my opinion.”

He suggested “bumping out the timeline,”

spacing Monument Ridge fuels

treatments and having public meetings in

Bondurant. “Have them think about if this

could work after getting past the initial

emotional reactions.”

All agreed that the next growing season

could give local residents a little hope

and a chance to see what vegetation returns.

As for roads and trails, Henn and

BLM’s Mark Thonoff talked about current

off-road use that tears up disturbed soils.

Signs ordered are delayed due to a typographical

error, Kranendonk explained.

BTNF’s Chad Hayward said Bucky’s

Outdoors is “ready to engage” clients and

educate forest users about not traveling on

the burn area.

Another element of the Monument

Ridge Project is the BTNF’s invasive

weed environmental impact statement

process, announced at the start of 2018.

Hayward said the draft EIS should be out

in about two months with a comment period

to follow. Kranendonk has requested

about $250,000 to implement it.

The Forest Collaborative plans to finetune

its top priorities for Monument Ridge

at its next meeting, set for 9:30 a.m. to

11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at the

Pinedale Fire Hall.n


Video News
More In Homepage