From the pages of
The Future of Natural Resources
Bob Reese has been District Ranger for the Pinedale Ranger District of the Bridger Teton National Forest since 1988. "Green blood" runs in the family: his father was a district ranger, and his brother is also in the Forest Service. For this eighth in a series of ten interviews in which the Journal asks locals to speak about the future, we discussed public lands management and natural resources with Mr. Reese. Highlights of our conversation follow.
Sublette County Journal: When ATVs came around, they created new management problems for the different federal agencies. Do you see any new activities or predict that something new might come along that could have a significant impact?
Bob Reese: Of course, ATVs and snowmobiles are both growing at a very rapid rate. Plus the technology in the vehicles, for instance in snowmobiles, is getting a lot better and people are getting to places that ten years ago, they couldn't even come close to. ATVs are the same way. They're making them better and better all the time so people can get to further and further places.
Plus, there are just getting to be more of them, so just managing those will continue to be a challenge in the future. I don't have any great vision about a new motorized vehicle that might come upon the scene, unless they perfected something like hovercraft on a smaller scale. But motorized vehicles in general will be a challenge.
SCJ: How about non-mechanical activities?
BR: Of course, it wouldn't be in the wilderness area, but there is some potential for helicopter skiing, as other areas where they're currently helicopter skiing become more crowded. I could see that might have the potential to branch out - maybe not over here, because the stuff that would be really good helicopter skiing is all in wilderness around here, but there might be some stuff in the Wyoming Range, for example.
As back-country skiing increases, there may end up being some conflicts down the road between helicopter skiing and back-country skiing similar to what they currently have out of Salt Lake in the canyons. It's quite controversial down there. There's a lot of competition for some of the terrain both from back-country skiers as well as from helicopter skiers down there in the Tri-Canyon areas by Salt Lake.
SCJ: Is the competition for the fresh powder?
SCJ: It creates a new value on fresh powder - almost a new resource. With the Anticline debate, we've created this new resource that I wasn't really aware of before: viewshed or visual resource management.
BR: Well, actually visual resource management in the Forest Service has been around for quite a while. It was relatively new when I started in the Forest Service in 1975. And my first job at the Forest Service was landscape architect. One of my main responsibilities was managing the visual resource impacts of management activities of a forest in northwestern Montana, which had a lot of timber harvest. That was a pretty challenging job, to try to soften the impact, from a visual standpoint, of timber sale activities.
Scenic quality, in terms of natural scenic quality, seems to be getting more important to people all the time, especially in areas like the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which has a lot of country that's really high in scenic quality.
SCJ: What about quiet and solitude as resources?
BR: Right. Well, a lot of people go out and camp on the national forest to get away from people and get out in the woods. There are also a lot of people who go out and camp who are more social and don't mind people and some noise. As recreation increases, that factor will become more and more important. I was at the Ogden Ranger District before here; it's right off the Wasatch Front, and there was hardly anyplace on the national forest where you could get away from people there.
But as more and more people, as I say, "move into the green," people who were going there for a certain amount of solitude will start moving elsewhere. So that competition, or different levels of recreation activities, will become more intense as more people visit.
SCJ: Can you think of any other resources that could be a source of management concern or a conflict in the future?
BR: I guess I would see, in terms of relatively new programs in the Forest Service, water quality becoming more important. Also, air quality is a new one that the Forest Service hasn't dealt with much until recently.
SCJ: How could water quality impact management for recreation?
BR: Well, take along the Green River, for an example. There are a lot of people who like to pull off and camp along the river at sites up there. As you get more and more people camping along the Green River, pretty soon they're tromping out the vegetation and we're getting sedimentation in the water. So, you increase what's called turbidity, where the amount of fine sediment erodes into the Green River. There are a lot of quality standards that we have to meet in terms of turbidity. So that would cause us to restrict the amount of recreation use that would be along the Green River in dispersed sites. Some of those sites we may develop further to provide some hardening of surfaces to try to control erosion and so forth. But with some of them, if we were really trying to maintain that kind of activity, we may have to go to almost a rotation system of some campsites to let them revegetate and heal up, especially the areas close to the river - the streambanks where a lot of the sediment will degenerate.
And, as you increase more people along the Green River, of course you have to be concerned about human waste and trash. You start getting too much human waste in creeks and streams, and you could increase the coliform and bacterial count in water. In heavily dispersed areas where we have a lot of that, we may have to install toilets.
SCJ: On the Snake River, you have conflicts between rafters and kayakers and fishermen as those activities get more popular. Here in Sublette County, do you see any potential for that?
BR: At some point, we may have to work with Game and Fish and have a restriction for no motors on the Green River. But I would think that restrictions like that would happen quicker on the major lakes. I know we've started having some problems and complaints from people, say at New Fork Lake, from jet skis. I would see restrictions on jet skis coming into play on some of the major lakes before they would on the Green River. Of course, the water quality in Fremont Lake, since it's the town water source, is being watched very closely by the Environmental Protection Agency as well as us, and we have a watershed management plan in place to try and assure that we're not going to degrade the quality in Fremont Lake.
SCJ: Can you think of any other recreation conflicts?
BR: There will probably be more conflicts between horse users and backpackers. We're probably going to have to go to some kind of restricted use in the Bridger just because it's getting so much horse use as well as backpackers and climbers. Especially during the summer period - July, August, early September.
SCJ: The idea that you want to manage for habitat rather than numbers of animals has changed the way agencies manage the land. There could be similar changes in philosophy concerning ways to manage recreation. Do you see any new ways of thinking that could create significant shifts in the way the forest is managed?
BR: There's been more emphasis in the last ten years to get our land management people and researchers closer together so that the research provides us with more direct information to better manage the land. Then we would have better science behind the decisions that we make.
Second, we're looking a lot more at ecological relationships versus individual, functional relationships. For example, we're looking at entire watersheds in terms of how does this particular watershed function from an ecological standpoint, and what are all the components and how do they relate to one another, versus just looking at the timber or looking at the aspen or the sagebrush or the grass. Instead of comparing systems individually, we're trying to look at them as a whole and try to understand how all these things interrelate, so that when you modify one component in the watershed, how is that going to affect the ecological balance within that watershed.
We're doing a lot of large-scale ecological assessments. I know they've been working on the upper Columbia Basin for quite a while now. And that's a very large scale; it includes all those Snake River drainings.
SCJ: Do you see anything that would give industry, perhaps oil and gas and ag, a better foothold to fight that big trend toward recreation and away from industrial or commercial uses of the natural resources on public lands?
BR: Well, recreation has certainly taken a dramatic increase in its role in the overall scheme of what we manage for. The forest plan, when we did it, was really aimed at recreation and wildlife, although it allowed grazing and other kinds of commodity uses as well. But the plan was really aimed at recreation and wildlife, and that's pretty much a national trend.
But I think what will really influence legislation or change the way the Forest Service operates will be concerns over water quality, air quality, and threatened and endangered species. We've already talked a little bit about water quality and air quality. But threatened and endangered species, at the rate they're being proposed for listing and are being listed at the present time, makes it a whole lot more complex to be able to do some of the commodity uses that we have in the past.
There are more and more species that get listed, and the Threatened and Endangered Species Act requires us to address individual species. Well, at the rate they're being listed, pretty soon it's going to be impossible for us to deal with individual species. We're going to have to get into a larger-scale ecosystem approach for a variety of species. We just won't be able to manage species-by-species anymore. And there could be significant changes and restrictions on what we can and can't do because of species being listed.
For example, we have lynx populations on the Bridger-Teton as well as a lot of lynx habitat. We just put out an environmental assessment on small areas of blowdown sales up by Union Pass. Those are going to have to have a biological evaluation for affects on lynx. It's another added species for which we've got to make sure we're protecting the habitat or be in violation of the Threatened and Endangered Species Act.
Colorado River cutthroat, a lot of the cutthroat trout species, are sensitive species under the Forest Service classification, but haven't been proposed to be listed. That will have some significant effects in terms of what we can do in individual drainages with grazing, roads, timber, with any other kind of commodity or development use that could create sedimentation in the streams and affect fisheries habitat. And again, this gets back to water quality.
SCJ: As the commodity interest groups wane, and environmental groups gain dominance in public lands management, do you see the potential for different factions in the environmental movement to square off against each other? For instance, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, with its emphasis on hunting, versus the Wyoming Outdoor Council's more preservationist stance.
BR: I would see, as competition for scarce resources - land base - increases, individual groups becoming more narrowly focused on their particular concerns, and on exactly what it is that they want. There could be some differences, like you said, between the Wildlife Federation and the very strict preservationist kind of organizations. They might become split up and looking for a little more clearly defined niche. But I see that all the way across the whole recreation spectrum.
The competition for land base is just going to get more and more intense as you get more and more people. There will be competition for the land in which to use ATVs and snowmobiles versus undeveloped kinds of recreation, such as cross-country skiing, hiking; and then considerations of wildlife species. Competition for that same acre of land is going to increase as you get more population.
SCJ: So the conflicts will not be between industry and recreation, but within recreation?
BR: Well, there will always be commodity kinds of uses as well as recreation. But the competition is going to get very intense in recreation activities.
I know, for example, down on the Wasatch Front where I was before, we were already restricting the number of vehicles per campsite and the number of people in those campsites, and we had restrictions on the number of people who could go on this one big peninsula used for swimming and boating. We had to block the road to keep it at capacity. Restrictions on motorized vehicles on designated routes came to that country a lot sooner than they did here. With more intense pressure, more restrictions have to be implemented. So I don't see that getting any better.
SCJ: Can you predict any new commodity-type resources that may grow out of nowhere?
BR: With more people, there will be a greater demand for water. We might be put in the position of trying to increase water yields. For example, if Wyoming ends up providing water for the L.A. Basin, and all the water rights are taken, it might put pressure on the Forest Service to try to increase the water yield, which means eliminating quite a bit of the basin, so that the vegetation doesn't get much water, which - I could see that would be really interesting. But that could be a possibility in the long run.
I could also see the demand increasing for wood products; for example, a lot of the chipboard and stuff they use now. It might become more economical to go into the forest and use the dead-and-down fuel, chipping it up to make chipboard.
SCJ: Going back to threatened and endangered species, you've got sage grouse, cutthroat trout and lynx on the radar screen. Do you anticipate anything that might come up that isn't being considered now?
BR: Well, I would have never predicted sage grouse. I'm apparently not a good predictor of what might become threatened and endangered. But it seems like they're finding more things all the time. We're starting to pay a lot closer attention to non-game fish species that are threatened: suckers and that sort of stuff. The wolverine is another one, similar to the lynx. We're starting to find out more about wolverines, because there's not very much known about populations and habitats of wolverines.
SCJ: Have internet sites and reviews about wilderness areas increased use to those areas?
BR: We're getting more and more people accessing information about the Winds from any number of websites. The use of the internet has really increased the amount of people who want to come out here and see the Winds.
SCJ: Then there's no end in sight for that. As more and more people get online, more and more people will want to come here, which increases recreation conflicts.
BR: As more people move to the west and more people visit the west, the competition for the uses on national forest land are going to get more intense and more complicated to resolve. My prediction is that air quality, water quality, and threatened and endangered species issues will drive land management quicker than about anything else.
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