The idea of a mountain bike trail near Pine Creek’s exit from Fremont Lake died on the vine earlier this summer out of concern for mule deer that pass through a migration “bottleneck” in the same area.
Plans that originated with a cycling group were considered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest, but the project didn’t pass muster when it was being vetted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and others.
“It was in the proposal stage, but never made it through a screening process because it came right through the migration corridor,” Bridger-Teton Pinedale District Ranger Rob Hoelscher told the Jackson Hole Daily. “The bottleneck is right there at the outlet of the lake. We’ve got the town of Pinedale below and there are irrigation diversions there at the lake, so the animals basically all go through that area in the spring and fall.”
Instead, the planned location for the bike trail was moved to the northeast, toward the Sweeney Creek area near the White Pine Ski Area. Its placement in that location must still be approved, and the Bridger-Teton plans to issue a categorical exclusion at some point in the future to get it authorized.
The now-scrapped trail could have interfered specifically with the Red Desert-to-Hoback mule deer migration corridor, which was the first route designated by the state of Wyoming. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 deer pass through the narrow bottleneck at the Fremont Lake outflow, according to a 2016 assessment of the migration path.
A subset of those animals, which migrate farther than any other Lower 48 terrestrial species, moves well beyond the Hoback basin, passing through Jackson Hole and north of Jackson Lake on their way to summer range in the Island Park, Idaho, area.
A project summary of the foiled Fremont Ridge Trail says that 3 miles of the trail is already in place, in the form of closed Forest Road No. 759. Another three-quarters of a mile of trail would have been constructed, including a lollipop loop that would have climbed a ridge to gain a view of Soda Lake and the surrounding valley.
The “desired future conditions” — a U.S. Forest Service equivalent for zoning — for where the trail would have gone are “developed and administrative sites” and “special use/recreation.” Those classifications would have allowed for new trails, and the Bridger-Teton’s forest plan easily predates the discovery of the migration route, which wasn’t until 2013. Outside of those processes, the forest sought input before proceeding with the plans.
“We have memorandums of understanding in place for when we work with Game and Fish,” Hoelscher said. “We try our best.”
Wyoming is overhauling its protocol for designating migration corridors and is updating the protections that those designations will come with. At the final meeting of a migration stakeholder group convened by Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday, Bridger-Teton wildlife biologist Rusy Kaiser pointed to the mountain bike trail in the bottleneck as an example of the importance of decisions that were being made.
“This stuff happens all the time,” Kaiser said. “Some good input from you guys and an executive order that we can eventually implement on federal lands would be very useful. Right now we just kind of play it by ear.
“I’m working on a gravel pit in a [mule deer] stopover area right now,” he said. “These things are real. These decisions you’re making are a big deal.”