Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor issued an apology this week to the Star Valley Community. The apology relates to a recent closure of and damage to a portion of the Lander Trail.
“We recognize and respect the historical significance of the Lander Trail and are committed to working with the community and others as we respond to this situation,” O’Connor wrote. “A review is being performed to gather information that will help the Forest determine how we improve internal processes and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”
The closure of the section of the Lander Trail by the Forest Service was discovered by area residents in September. The incident was subsequently reported to the Lincoln County Commissioners.
The Commissioners met with forest personnel on the issue and expressed concern relating to the damage done to the area as well as closing off access to a historically and culturally significant area.
The County Commissioners also filed an official complaint with the Forest Service Regional Office, asking for an investigation.
“Lincoln County is of the information and belief that the Greys River Ranger District authorized the blocking of segments of the Lander Trail system and the placement of large tree limbs along with excavation of the trail [to keep] the trail from being used,” the complaint from the Commissioners stated.
The county photographed and documented the damage done to the Lander Trail and surrounding area and submitted photos with the formal complaint.
“Lincoln County files this complaint against the U.S. Forest Service for damaging segments of the Lander Cutoff Trail system without consultation as required under federal law and regulations and in violation of state law and Wyoming State Historical Preservation Office regulations,” the Commissioner complaint states. “The Lander Trail is protected as a cultural resource under the National Historic Preservation Act. The alteration or destruction of such resources is subject to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.”
Lincoln County called the actions taken by the Bridger-Teton National Forest personnel “illegal” and stated that “all employees involved in the action and decision should be placed on administrative leave until this investigation is completed.”
The letter of apology from the Forest Supervisor O’Connor is printed on the opinion pages in the October 19, 2016 print edition of the Star Valley Independent.