SHERIDAN PRESS 8-20-16 Working to Protect Rock Creek

Aug 20, 2016

SHERIDAN — As part of its efforts to protect wildlands for the future, Wyoming Wilderness Association started its Youth Ambassadors for Wilderness program. Program organizer Heidi Davidson said kids take for granted having the Bighorn Mountains in their backyard. WWA provides new perspectives for them, which helps them find their connection with the wildlands through cooperative efforts with EcoFlight, a nonprofit conservation organization founded by president Bruce Gordon based out of Aspen, Colorado.

EcoFlight works with conservation groups from the grassroots level up to national and international organizations to educate and advocate for the protection of remaining wildlands and wildlife habitat through the use of small aircraft. Gordon flies conservation groups, policy makers, media representatives, concerned citizens and young adults over Western landscapes so they can see for themselves the impact of man on our natural world and hopefully inspire proactive behavior to protect these landscapes.

“Through a collaboration with EcoFlight, WWA can offer new perspectives for YAW participants to help them appreciate where they live,” Davidson said. “EcoFlight provides another perspective for them through seeing an aerial view of the forest instead of just hiking through it. It’s a memorable experience for them.”

According to WWA executive director Carolyn Schroth, WWA works with EcoFlight to support campaigns, working to raise awareness through the media and by taking elected officials up in the air to show them the issues they want them to pay attention to, like designating Rock Creek recommended wilderness area as a wilderness area.

“Through our collaboration with EcoFlight and our YAW program, we are getting the attention of young people and their parents, and so it’s bringing more people into our purview in terms of what we do and in our efforts to raise awareness,” Schroth said.

WWA is working with the Council for the Bighorn Range and EcoFlights to protect Wyoming’s public wildlands with the ultimate goal of achieving wilderness status in areas that are deserving of it, in particular Rock Creek recommended wilderness area.

According to the U.S. Forest Service website, roadless areas meeting the minimum criteria for wilderness consideration under the Wilderness Act were inventoried during the USFS Roadless Areas Review and Evaluation process. Rock Creek recommended wilderness area is part of that inventory and was recommended by the USFS to Congress as a candidate for designation as wilderness in 2005.

According to the Bighorn National Forest’s final environmental impact statement for the revised land and resource management plan, the Rock Creek area is one of the most primitive areas in the Bighorn National Forest outside of wilderness. It is largely unmodified and natural in appearance. The area has high levels of opportunity for solitude, is natural and free from disturbance, provides a high level of challenge and primitive unconfined recreation and contains environmental and special features.

According to the founder and president of CBR, Rob Davidson, under the Wilderness Act of 1964, a wilderness area has to provide a certain amount of challenge and provides an un-mechanized primitive experience. It has no development and no mechanized or motorized vehicles. Chainsaws, power tools and equipment are not allowed. Wheeled vehicles are not allowed, but horses and other companion animals are allowed. The purpose is to advance the idea of solitude, an ability to get away from mechanized modern society.

In addition, roadless areas are different than wilderness areas, essentially because of the way the designated forest lands are managed. Wilderness areas are protected by Congress under the Wilderness Act. The 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule permits timber harvesting for limited purposes, livestock grazing, off-highway vehicle use and oil and gas development that do not require new roads.

According to Schroth, Rock Creek recommended wilderness area is a priority for WWA because the organization is interested in protecting as much roadless area as possible in order to maintain the current condition of the mountain range. WWA is concerned with increased motorized activity and usage of the Bighorn National Forest. Schroth said that there needs to be a balance between motorized recreational areas and areas where people can achieve solitude and experience the environment without hearing motors.

According to Schroth, local collaboratives are developing and looking at the roadless areas in the Bighorn Mountains to determine whether they should remain roadless or be released for some sort of development. WWA fears that this could result in turning over public lands to state management or county management where the lands could be sold off to the highest bidder.

Through efforts to organize, educate and advance the protection and conservation of public wildlands, WWA and CBR work together to promote the protection of all lands currently in wilderness designation, as well as those areas that have been determined to possess wilderness characteristics. They advocate for wilderness designations by demonstrating to local elected officials that there is enough support from communities for that recommendation or designation. The hope is that the local officials will take the recommendations to the delegation in Washington, who will turn a bill into legislation so that Congress will then make the wilderness designations official.