From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 1, Number 52 - March 28, 2002
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Food storage proposal delayed

by Cat Urbigkit

Food storage proposal delayed

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Bridger-Teton National Forest announced that both the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests have decided to postpone the expansion of an existing food storage order that would have covered much of both forests beginning in April 2002.

According to the press release, "During public meetings held in Lander and Afton, concerned citizens provided significant input that Forest Supervisors Kniffy Hamilton and Becky Aus wish to analyze and incorporate into the special order to meet people’s concerns while still protecting people and bears."

"We need our local communities and forest users to suggest solutions that are fair to all users," Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton said. "Simply because no one has been hurt yet, doesn’t mean it won’t happen, or that we can ignore the potential for it to happen."

Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Becky Aus said: "We want to be responsive to people’s concerns and make it as easy as possible to comply with the food order. At the same time, we have to remember that this is a safety issue, and we have a responsibility to do what we can to minimize encounters and other conflicts between people and bears."

According to the release, between now and mid-summer, forest officials are committed to working with local communities and forest users so that people understand why separating people and their food from bears is so important.

Tuesday’s announcement was the latest in the agency’s easing of the expansion proposal. At a meeting last week, Bridger-Teton National Forest officials scaled back plans for the expanded food-storage order, dropping the Wyoming Range from the proposal, but retaining the entire Wind River Range.

Greys River District Ranger Mesia Nyman told the crowd at a public meeting last Wednesday night in Afton that the reason the Wyoming Range was dropped was "because we are being responsive to you. "The second reason is we’re not ready to do that," Nyman said.

Food-storage regulations have been in place within the grizzly bear recovery zone for a number of years, but Shoshone and Bridger-Teton National Forest officials proposed to greatly expand the area covered by the order effective April 1. The order requires that unattended food be stored in bear-resistant containers, hard-sided vehicles or hung above ground out of the reach of bears.

The expanded order follows last month’s approval of a grizzly bear management plan by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. That plan, which would take effect once grizzlies are removed from federal protection, would allow grizzlies to roam throughout western Wyoming, from Kemmerer to Farson and Lander, north through the Bighorn basin to the Montana border.

The Afton meeting drew nearly 400 people, with the group resoundingly voicing opposition to implementing the order in the area from Alpine to Kemmerer. All three Lincoln County Commissioners were present and were applauded for endorsing the Fremont County Commission’s action on the matter. Fremont County passed resolutions determining that both grizzly bears and gray wolves are "unacceptable species" due to the threats they pose to public health and safety. The resolutions ban the "presence, introduction or reintroduction" of these species from within the boundaries of the county. A separate resolution also passed by Fremont County prohibits implementation of the food storage order within that county.

Senator Delaine Roberts of Etna spoke at last week’s Afton meeting, stating that he can’t recall any other issue that has drawn so much interest from his constituents as this one.

Roberts called the proposal "ridiculous," adding that he is very disappointed that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department supported the proposal.

Maury Jones of Grover, president of the Jackson Hole Outfitters and Guides Association, presented Bridger-Teton National Forest officials with more than 1,000 signatures opposing the order. Similar petitions with more than 1,500 signatures were presented to Shoshone National Forest officials in Lander two weeks ago.

Although Fremont County’s actions have won the endorsement of Lincoln County and the town governments of Afton, Dubois and Lander, it drew the ire of the top law-enforcement officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming.

FWS’s Dominic Domenici condemned the Fremont County Commission’s action as a "knee-jerk Freemen-type" response to a federal policy it disagreed with, rather than taking a more reasoned approach.

"I think that’s offensive," Fremont County Commissioner Crosby Allen said. "The Constitution refers to all citizens as free men. It was arrogant and ignorant on his part to make such a statement."

Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson said there is a reason why the commission took such action in the first place.

"It’s a frustration with bureaucrats and federal agencies and their disrespect for private property rights and for people earning their living off the land," Thompson said. With comments such as those offered by Domenici, "there’s little reason to hope there’s any change happening soon under the current conditions."

Commission Chairman Scott Luther said of each of the Fremont County Commissioners, "We’re all great Americans, very patriotic and we believe in the Constitution of the United States.

"It’s very appalling that a top-ranking U.S. official accuses us of that and tries to twist things around just because we don’t agree," Luther said. "He ought to resign his position if that’s the way he feels towards U.S. citizens."

Luther characterized the commission as a group of elected officials at the local level who have been willing to stand up and put the federal government on notice when the government adopts a policy negatively affecting citizens. Luther said the commission has had great support from the public, with Allen noting that there are now more than 2,000 signatures on petitions supporting the commission’s positions.

"That is 12.5 percent of Fremont County’s voting population," Allen added. "Only one percent of people asked to sign the petitions have refused."

Last week, the Sublette County Commission declined to pass resolutions similar to Fremont County’s, but did vote to request the Bridger-Teton National Forest to rescind the food-storage provision.

Part of the reason for the controversy appears to be that as Wyoming prepares to manage grizzlies without the constraints of federal protection, federal officials are now imposing more – not less – regulation. Critics view this as expansion of the grizzly recovery area rather than elimination of that area because bears are recovered. These regulations aren’t just for the wilderness areas normally associated with grizzly bear presence, but includes other multiple-use areas, including high-use areas where youth camps are located on both sides of the Wind River Mountains.

Others critics cite issues ranging from weariness of federal arrogance and federal mandates, to the negative economic impact to local communities.

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