Volume 104, Number 21 - May 24, 2007
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County dunks scenic rivers plan
Earlier this month, Senator Craig Thomas introduced legislation to protect segments of 14 rivers and streams in Wyoming under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System designation.
The Snake Headwaters Legacy Act of 2007 would protect 21 segments of waterways that run into the Snake, some of which go through Sublette County, including portions of the Hoback River, the Gros Ventre River, Shoal Creek, Granite Creek, and Cliff Creek.
This act will produce “a lasting legacy for Wyoming people, for our tourism economy, and for future generations to enjoy the spectacular features of our rivers just as we do today,” Thomas said in a release. Wild and Scenic designations do not affect the multiple use, private property rights, or access, Thomas added. It would prevent dams from being built on the waters.
However, the Sublette County commissioners decided at their May 15 meeting that they would write a letter opposing these designations for waters in the county. “We’re basing this on the opinions of residents that could be affected by this designation,” John Linn said this week.
“We have questions, that to my knowledge, were never asked by anyone on Senator Thomas’ staff. I hope they have covered their bases, and have asked the questions we are trying to ask,” Joel Bousman commented in an interview. He said Senator Thomas never notified the county commissioners of this proposal; they learned of it from a press release.
Bousman noted that the designation could have “a negative impact on multiple use economies.” “In the past, Wild and Scenic designations does not automatically eliminate livestock grazing,” he said. “But what comes later is a concern,” he added, commenting that managers may impose restrictions after the designation is made.
Bousman is meeting with the Upper Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association later this week, to see how they feel about it. However, the Forest Service has emphasized that management along these waterways will not change.
“The Forest Plan had us manage them as though they were designated all along,” said Mary Cernicek, a spokeswoman for the Bridger-Teton, adding that the designation will not affect uses like grazing. “There will be no change in river management,” she added.
In Washington, Jack Dennis, a prominent fly-fisherman from Jackson testified on behalf of the bill, telling the Senate Energy and Natural Resource’s subcommittee on national pars, “This is one of the last great places left, and it needs to be protected.” The bill should be heard in front of the full Senate this week.
“As we seek to improve destination travel in Wyoming, it’s important to let folks know about the remarkable rivers our state has to offer,” Thomas’ release stated. “My bill will designate the Snake River Headwaters and certain tributaries as among the cleanest and most free-flowing rivers our nation has to offer.”
The designation will protect the water quality of the Snake and its headwaters, and maintain it at the level it is today, which is said to the purest of any watershed in the lower 48 states. Rafting trips down the Snake, which annually bring in millions of dollars to associated communities, will be unaffected by the bill.
Currently, Wyoming only has 20 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers, in a segment along the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River. Jonathan Ratner, the Wyoming director of Western Watersheds Project, was “very glad” to see the designation proposed for these waters.
“Designating these streams and rivers under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act acknowledges their world-class status and will help protect sensitive native trout populations,” Ratner said.
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