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Forest Service studies merge, could help Teton County Idaho

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Posted: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 11:00 pm

Conversations have begun recently about the feasibility of merging the Caribou-Targhee and Bridger Teton National Forests. While discussions are in the very preliminary stages, it could be a positive for Teton Valley Idaho. There is a chance a joint supervisors office could end up in Teton Valley, though at this point the merger is only an idea.

Caribou-Targhee Forest Supervisor Brent Larson met with the Teton County Idaho Board of County Commissioners, Driggs Mayor Dan Powers and Victor Mayor Zach Smith on Thursday to gather their input and identify feasible alternatives for consideration.

In October, Regional Forester Harv Forsgren directed Larson and Bridger-Teton Forest Supervisor, Jacque Buchanan to work together on gathering input from government officials and other stakeholders. The Caribou-Taghee Forest is headquartered in Idaho Falls while Bridger-Teton is based in Jackson, Wyo.

The Forest Service is already anticipating the completion of a sale of a portion of the administrative site in Jackson. The plan has been to move the headquarters to Afton, Alpine, Pinedale or possibly Teton County Idaho because administrators reasoned the cost of housing in Jackson was too high for Forest Service employees. Ahead of talk about a Forest merger, Teton County Idaho Commissioner Kathy Rinaldi and the BOCC had sent letters to Forest Service administrators expressing a desire to assist in looking at the feasibility and potential cost savings associated with co-locating offices and staffing in Teton County Idaho because of the anticipated sale of the Jackson property.

On Thursday, Larson cautioned that they are way ahead of the process and this is only an input gathering stage. He added, however, that the Forest Service has a long history of consolidations. Both forests are the products of previous mergers. The Caribou Forest was headquartered in Pocatello and the TArthee in ST. Anthony prior to a merge. The Bridger and Teton National Forests combined in 1973.

 A merge is not expected to impact local ranger districts, though there is a chance a ranger district could also be jointly located with a supervisor’s office. It could mean a reduction in staff for the two supervisors offices and the possibility for one supervisor over the merged forest.

Larson said the idea for a merger is a potential cost savings measure.

One possible scenario would be for the Forest Service to build an office off Highway 33 South of Victor at Mike Harris on existing Forest Service Land. Another option, Rinaldi suggested exploring, was the possibility of purchasing the National Guard Armory building in Driggs. Rinaldi said there is a possibility the state of Idaho would be willing to sell it. The building has some recent renovations and could be large enough to accommodate both a ranger district and Supervisors office.

Larson explained that a supervisor’s office doesn’t need to be as visible as a district office. The Forest Supervisor functions in a more administrative role with the ranger district answers more to the public and day-to-day operations. The Driggs Ranger Districts lease is up in 2014, so there is another potential area for a joint office and cost savings measure.

“I don’t know where it will end up,” said Larson about all the possibilities, adding that similar conversations were happening right now in Utah. “We’ve got to get smarter with

Another argument for locating some kind of joint office in Teton Valley, Prosecution Attorney Kathy Spitzer pointed out on Thursday, was that Victor or Driggs had more established than Alpine.

Powers mentioned the Old Ford Garage as another possibility they could bring to the table, while Smith, who’s also a licensed realtor brought information on potential employee housing options. The BOCC and both mayors said they would continue to look for and work on options that could work for the Forest Service.

If the two Forests were to merge, it could create the largest national forest in the lower 48 states. Caribou-Targhee occupies over 3 million acres, mostly in Idaho, but also in parts of Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Larson said there has also been talk floating around about including the parts of the CB Forest in Wyoming into the Bridger-Teton and cutting it off at the state line. Then the Driggs ranger district would be responsible for the Big Holes and the north end of the Valley.

Forest Service officials will discuss the matter again during a meeting December 14. Larson said Thursday they hope to have a preliminary study complete by the end of January.

Forsgren, the Regional Forester, will retire at the end of the year. Larson said his retirement would have no influence on the decision. A key player to consider, though, he said was US Representative Mike Simpson who chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the budget for public land management agencies. Wyoming representative, Cynthia Lummis also sits on the subcommittee.

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Las conversaciones han comenzado recientemente sobre la viabilidad de combinar bosques nacionales—Caribou-Targhee y Bridger Teton. Mientras las discusiones están en las etapas muy preliminares, podría ser un positivo para Valle de Teton de Idaho. Hay la posibilidad que una oficina de supervisores conjunta podría ubicarse en el Valle de Teton, aunque por el momento la fusión es sólo una idea. Si combinen los dos bosques, podría crear el bosque nacional más grande en los 48 Estados. Caribou-Targhee ocupa más que 3 millones de hectáreas, principalmente en Idaho, pero también en partes de Montana, Utah y Wyoming.

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