Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forests reveal merger details
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: December 15, 2012
U.S. Forest Service officials are considering four options for the potential merger of the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee national forests.
The four-alternative plan was discussed Thursday during a teleconference meeting between the forests, Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernicek said.
In one alternative, the forests will remain separate but will try to “gain efficiencies” by looking into opportunities to share resources and jointly cut costs, Cernicek said. Under this alternative, the Caribou-Targhee supervisor’s office would remain in Idaho Falls and the Bridger-Teton supervisor’s off-ice would be reconstructed and located either at its current site in Jackson or in Alpine.
A second alternative studied consolidates the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee into a single, 6.5 million-acre forest, which would be the largest in the lower 48 states. The joint national forest would be run by a single supervisor out of an office located in either Alpine, Idaho Falls or Driggs, Idaho.
The third alternative considers a collocated forest supervisor’s office, but the forests would continue to be managed autonomously. It’s not yet clear what office locations will be studied under this scenario, Cernicek said.
The fourth alternative is the least concrete and the details are still coming into form, Cernicek said. In it, a joint office of some form will be located in Jackson, but it’s not decided if the two forests would merge, she said.
It’s also possible the fourth alternative gets folded into the third “collocation” alternative, Cernicek said.
An eight-person Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee focus team is now eight weeks into the merger study. The team expects to present its findings to the Forest Service’s regional office by February, Cernicek said.
“We still think we’re going to make the deadline and be able to deliver information to the regional forester’s office by the end of January,” she said.
Regional Forester Harv Forsgren ordered the merger study, but is retiring Jan. 4. Either Forsgren’s replacement or Marlene Finley, the deputy regional forester, will review the focus team’s recommendation and decide how to proceed. U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell will have to approve any plan that consolidates the forests.
Cernicek stressed that the study team was on a tight timeline at a difficult time of year.
“It’s tough,” she said of the study. “You can’t go very in depth. It’s almost a shallow, quick look. This is back-of-the-envelope stuff.”
The study won’t be exhaustive, Cernicek said, but it also won’t be narrow in scope.
“Cascading effects will have to be looked at,” she said.
In addition to costs savings — which Forsgren said prompted the study — the focus team will assess socioeconomic impacts, worker welfare and how well the forests and communities are being served, Cernicek said.
How the last metric is being measured is yet to be determined, the spokeswoman said.
The next meeting between the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee study team, also a teleconference, is scheduled for Jan. 8. The following week, on Jan. 15., the groups will meet in person in Alpine.
The study is being conducted internally and lacks any form of public involvement, Cernicek said.
“There are no plans for any public input that I’m aware of,” she said. “If it ever gets to the point of a proposal, then there would likely be some kind of public involvement.”