Wilderness designation proposed for Fremont, New Fork Lakes, Wyoming Range

Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (H.R. 980)
Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
Under a new proposed House bill, wilderness proponents are hoping to get 24-million additional acres of public land in five states in the northern Rockies under federal wilderness protection. States impacted are Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The proposal includes significant increases to existing wilderness acreage in Sublette County, Wyoming, resulting in a significant reduction of areas open to outdoor recreation activities such as snowmobiling, boating, ATV vehicle use, and mountain biking.

The new legislation is called the ‘Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act’ (H.R. 980) and was introduced in February, 2009, by Representative Carol Maloney, a Democrat from New York, and Congressman Raul Grijavala, a Democrat from Arizona (who is also Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and PublicLands). 

The bill greatly expands the amount of federal land that has tight restrictions on allowed human activities, limited access, no new development, and is closed to motorized and off-road vehicle use, mineral exploration, logging, road construction, and timber harvesting. The bill is co-sponsored by 69 legislators, none of whom are from Wyoming,Montana, Idaho or Oregon. Washington has two legislators supporting this bill. (Co-Sponsors)

The objective is to protect important wildlife habitat and sensitive species, scenic values, connect biological corridors, remove roads, replant forest clear cuts, and include new eligible waters to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The bill is touted as adding new jobs related to the restoration and road removal programs, saving taxpayers millions of dollars by eliminating government subsidized development in wilderness areas, and is predicted to create a more sustainable economic base for the local communities near the new wilderness lands. 

If passed, Sublette County would see its existing wilderness areas expanded to include Bridger-Teton National Forest land surrounding Fremont Lake, Half Moon Lake,Willow Lake, New Fork Lake, Green River Lakes and large portions of the Wyoming Range. In addition, new areas that would come under wilderness management include Big Sandy Opening, Hoback Canyon, and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Scab Creek. 

The concept and legislation for this proposal are not new. This legislation has been a dream of wilderness proponents for over 15 years. First introduced in 1992, the House Natural Resources Committee held hearings in 1994, but no other actions were taken for over ten years. There have been repeated attempts to revive legislation by a host of co-sponsors with the support of a number of environmental groups, however it has never been passed. 

The intent of the 2009 bill, H.R. 980, is: ‘To designate certain National Forest System lands and public lands under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior in the States of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming as wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, wildland recovery areas, and biological connecting corridors, and for other purposes.’

Groups and individuals supporting the proposed legislation include the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Idaho Sportsmen Coalition, Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (OR), Blackfeet Crazy Dogs Society (MT), Cabinet Resources Group (MT), Friends of the West (ID), Earth Ministry (WA), former President Jimmy Carter, and pop music singer Carol King.

The bill specifically mentions these areas as proposed wilderness or additions as wild/scenic rivers:

– 86,000 acres proposed as the South Wyoming Range Wilderness for land administered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
230,000 acres Bridger-Teton National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands (Scab Creek) to be incorporated into the Bridger Wilderness.
15,000 acres proposed as Little Sheep Mountain Wilderness for land administered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
106,000 acres incorporated into the Gros Ventre Wilderness including 24,000 acres in Shoal Creek, plus 82,000 acres of other Gros Ventre area additions. 
18,000 acres proposed as the Monument Ridge Wilderness for land administered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
249,000 acres proposed as the Salt River Range Wilderness for land administered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
178,000 acres proposed as the Commissary Ridge Wilderness for land administered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
5,000 acres proposed as the Little Cottonwood Wilderness for land administered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
1,000 acres proposed as the North Mountain Wilderness for land administered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
– Proposal to designate the Hoback River as the 
‘Hoback Wild River,’ from the source downstream about 10 miles to the end of Forest Road 30710, to be managed as a wild river. 
– Proposal to designate Willow Creek as the 
‘Willow Creek Wild River,’ from the source downstream 20 miles to confluence with the Hoback River. 

In Sublette County, impacts appear to include:
– RV, snowmobile, ATV recreational use would be forbidden in much of the Upper Green, Horse Creek and Big Sandy Opening areas; 
– Fishing, water-skiing and all motorized boating and jet ski use would be forbidden on Fremont and Half Moon Lakes (including snowmobiles for winter ice fishing);
– ATVs and RVs would be excluded from large sections of the Wyoming Range and Grey’s River area for fall hunting access. Hunters would need to plan for a lengthy hike or pack animal ride to get into hunting areas and to pack their game out.
– Roads in the wilderness areas would be obliterated and access would be by foot or pack animal conveyance. It is unclear which roads would be closed. 
– Mountain biking use (a mechanized vehicle) would no longer be allowed in the Wyoming Range and large portions of the western slope of the Wind River Range on National Forest land.
– It is unclear what would happen to White Pine Ski Area, Lakeside Lodge, Boulder Lake Lodge, and Big Sandy Lodge guest ranches located and permitted by the Bridger-Teton National Forest within the boundaries of the newly expanded wilderness proposals.
– It is unclear what would be the fate of existing summer homes on National Forest land.
– It is unclear what would happen to elk feedgrounds and structures within the wilderness areas.
– It is unclear what might become of the proposal to create the new outdoor college at Half Moon Lake Resort and the Burnt Lake facilities.
– It is unclear what would happen to the many developed campgrounds, boat ramps and trailheads accesses in the Wind River Mountains and the Wyoming Range. 
– It is unclear what would happen to access to private in-holdings within the newly expanded wilderness areas due to removal of roads on public land in the wilderness areas.

H.R. 980 will be heard by the Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, May 5th, 2009. See the links below for more information about this proposed bill.

Related Links:
Full text of NREPA 980 Links to sections
Printable PDF of entire bill 149 pages
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Formed to meet the challenge of saving the Northern Rockies Bioregion from habitat destruction.
Map showing proposed wilderness on the Bridger-Teton National Forest WildRockiesAlliance.org
Map showing entire 5 state proposal WildRockiesAlliance.org
Representative Carol D. Maloney (D-NY) NREPA explanation

AWR Press Release February 13, 2009
Letter of Support to the Committee on Natural Resources April 19, 2009
U.S. House of Representatives Announces Hearing on the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, H.R. 980 Alliance for the Wild Rockies press release, April 21, 2009


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