Forest merger study begins
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
November 17, 2012
Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee officials talked for the first time Thursday about merging the two national forests.
The point of the merger — which at this point is only an idea — is to save money.
Representatives of the two national forests met in a teleconference. Each group included four representatives. The goal of the teleconference was to assign tasks to members of the two “focus groups,” Bridger-Teton spokes-woman Mary Cernicek said.
“My task is to get notes from the meeting that we had in October and send it out with a table that says we’re going to analyze three alternatives,” Cernicek said.
The first of those three alternatives is an option that would take no action and keep the two national forests separate, as they are now, Cernicek said.
Forest Service officials are also being directed to study a full merger that would result in a 6-million-acre-plus Caribou-Targhee-Bridger-Teton national forest, with a joint supervisor’s office and lone forest supervisor, she said.
Third, the task groups have been assigned to prepare a proposal that will include a partly combined entity with some shared programs, Cernicek said. A shared road crews program, the spokeswoman said, was the only one that was discussed for consolidation at the Thursday teleconference.
Regional Forester Harv Forsgren sent a letter Oct. 30 directing Bridger-Teton Supervisor Jacque Buchanan and Caribou-Targhee Supervisor Brent Larson to begin investigating a merger. Six days later, Forsgren announced that he would be retiring.
There was no connection between the events, Forest Service regional spokeswoman Erin O’Connor said Monday.
In the letter, Forsgren gives the national forest supervisors three months to prepare a “conceptual plan.” He said the plan would have no predetermined outcome.
“In the end, we may determine the best way to manage the two national forests is with two forest supervisors, although I believe that, given the proximity to each other, the similar programs, and similar public interests, it is important that we at least explore the option,” Forsgren wrote.
The impetus for a merger study is the bottom line in a tight-budget era, the letter says.
“Your proposals should include measurements that can gauge the benefits and negative consequences of operating the B-T and C-T as one forest unit,” Forsgren wrote. “A viable option would also have to realize at least $1 million in savings each year.”
On the Bridger-Teton side, the merger study group consists of Cernicek, Jackson District Ranger Dale Deiter, planning and lands staff officer Michael Scrotz and administrative officer Trish Truit. On the Caribou-Targhee side, the study group includes engineering chief Wes Stumbo, Ashton/Island Park Dis-trict Ranger Liz Davy, Palisades District Ranger Tracy Hollingshead and Debbie Buster, human resources director.
Employees who have been assigned to study the merger are also obliged to complete their regular duties over the next two months, Cernicek said.
“This is just a little project on the side,” she said.
The potential merger of the two national forests was acknowledged only this week by Forest Service officials.
A combination of the Bridger-Teton and the Caribou-Targhee would create the largest national forest in the lower 48 states.
The Bridger-Teton, spread over northwest Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park, includes 3.4 million acres. The Caribou-Targhee is to the west, partly in Wyoming but with most of its 2.6 million acres in Idaho.
The Bridger-Teton has its offices in Jackson. The headquarters of the Caribou-Targhee is in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
The next meeting between the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee groups is scheduled for Dec. 14, Cernicek said.
There are no plans at this time for meetings that will be open to the public, she said.