From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 11 - June 12, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Fremont again opposes food storage proposal

by Cat Urbigkit

After hearing testimony from county residents for more than an hour Tuesday, the Fremont County Commission once again enacted a resolution expressing opposition to a proposed Shoshone National Forest food storage order.

Last year, officials with both the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests proposed expanding the food storage order south into the Wyoming and Wind River ranges, with the expressed intention to reduce conflicts between bears and humans. But faced with public outcry from throughout western Wyoming, and several county commissions and town councils enacting resolutions in opposition to the proposed federal action, the proposal was withdrawn. The agency has since re-drafted the proposal, now titled "occupancy and use restrictions."

It was an overflowing commission meeting room at the courthouse in Lander Tuesday, and of the two dozen residents who spoke, all expressed opposition, with the exception of a National Outdoor Leadership School representative, who did not state an official position on the issue. Forest Service officials did not attend the hearing.

Fremont County Commission Chairman Doug Thompson said after last year's ruckus over the proposed expansion of the order to encompass the Wind River Mountain range, Forest Service officials pledged to meet with those concerned and address specific problems with the order.

"That was not done," Thompson said.

That the Forest Service hadn't held public meetings or hearings was a recurring theme in complaints voiced at the hearing from both commissioners and residents alike.

Commissioner Cros Allen characterized the revised order as "basically a metamorphosed document of the original one," with few changes.

"It's the same horse," Allen said.

Fremont County Farm Bureau President David Vaughan questioned the wording that prohibits a person from knowingly camping within a half-mile of an animal carcass. He asked, "Does that mean we have to send out a scouting party?"

Vaughan said an empty pop can in the back of a pickup truck could earn a person a $5,000 fine.

"They said they wouldn't do that," Vaughan said. "Well I don't trust them. I think they would do that."

Dude rancher and outfitter Jim Allen of Lander said he requested Lander Valley Medical Center to search its records for backcountry accidents, to see if there was proof of increased conflicts between humans and bears. Of the 8,000 emergency room records searched for accidents in the last year, Allen said, eight involved horse wrecks, four all-terrain vehicle wrecks, three involved snowmobiles, two falls, two skiing accidents and one drowning. There were no recorded bear attacks, Allen said.

Allen said the information would lead a reasonable person to conclude, "Horses are far more dangerous than bears." He said more harm occurs from people falling from trees while hanging their food out of reach of bears than from bears attacking humans.

Ron Cunningham of the Fremont County Youth Camp spoke in opposition to the order.

"If one of our campers were to leave an empty candy wrapper, we would be liable for that," Cunningham said.

Lander Llama Company owner Scott Woodruff said, "I firmly believe this is about liability and deep pockets." Woodruff said the bear-proof containers required by the order are expensive and not justified in the southern portion of the Winds.

Last year, the National Outdoor Leadership School sent a letter of opposition to the proposal, according to NOLS's John Gookin of NOLS. But Gookin said forest officials have been working with his organization to try to address its concerns.

After listening to testimony, Allen said he felt even more strongly opposed to the proposal.

Commissioner Lanny Applegate said it was his understanding the Forest Service would hold public meetings, but it failed to do so. Applegate also questioned what federal officials marked up as conflicts, when in reality the conflicts were nothing more than bear sightings.

Thompson agreed, stating, "That a sighting is a conflict is a contrived issue."

"Is this draft to manage the people or manage the bear?" Applegate questioned.

Commission Vice Chairman Pat Hickerson said he hoped the commission would remain strong in its opposition, adding, "Just a resolution may not be enough. We tried that once and they're back again."

Although the commission adopted a resolution opposed to the latest Forest Service proposal, Thompson said the commission will also "look at some legal options" in trying to resolve the conflict.

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