Meetings to address Snake headwaters management

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Three federal agencies have scheduled meetings Tuesday and Wednesday on proposed changes to how they manage the Snake River headwaters and the river's upper tributaries, plans that would close some roads and boater access points while improving other riverside facilities in Grand Teton National Park.

The changes result from the Craig Thomas Snake Headwaters Legacy Act of 2008, which protects 388 miles of the Snake headwaters and the river's headwater tributaries in western Wyoming as officially designated wild and scenic rivers.

The U.S. Forest Service has been preparing to implement the act on the portions of the Snake River and its tributaries that flow through Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been working on their own plan for managing the Snake headwaters and tributaries in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the National Elk Refuge.

Meetings on the two plans will be Tuesday at Moran Elementary School in Moran and Wednesday at the Teton County Public Library in Jackson. Both meetings will be 4-7 p.m.

Chief sponsor of the Snake River headwaters act was Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., who died six years ago Tuesday. President Barack Obama signed the act into law in 2009.

The act protects the Snake headwaters for its "outstandingly remarkable" attributes including its scenery, recreational value and ecological role. The rivers are prime habitat for Yellowstone and Snake River cutthroat trout and significant populations of leatherside chub, bluehead sucker and western pearlshell mussel, according to the Park Service/Fish and Wildlife management plan.

The plan covers some 69 miles of the Snake River, which begins in Yellowstone and flows into Grand Teton; 15 miles of the Lewis River, which flows south in Yellowstone and joins the Snake near Yellowstone's South Entrance; and 8 miles of the Buffalo Fork River, which flows into Grand Teton from the east.

The plan also covers three miles of the Gros Ventre River and four miles of Pacific Creek, both of which flow into the Snake River in the southern part of Grand Teton. The Gros Ventre River divides Grand Teton from the National Elk Refuge.

The stretches of river covered by the plan are designated as "wild," with minimal development along their banks, or "scenic," with more development in place.

People who commented previously offered a wide range of suggestions for managing the rivers without consensus, said the Park Service/Fish and Wildlife plan released May 6.

"Some people encouraged opening more sections of the river to boating/paddling/floating, whereas others urged public land managers to close or keep closed certain river segments," the document reads.

The two agencies came up with three alternatives in the Snake River Headwaters Comprehensive Management Plan Environmental Assessment. One would not change anything from current practices. Another would provide for more potential use of the rivers while still protecting them.

The preferred alternative would focus on "visitor connections with the natural world" through "unobtrusive interpretive opportunities."

Along the Snake River in Grand Teton, the agencies propose to improve a number of facilities while doing away others. A parking lot and part of a gravel access road would be paved at Deadman's Bar, which is the busiest access point in Grand Teton for commercial trips on the Snake River.

About 10 miles upstream, a boat ramp would be enlarged to reduce waiting times for boaters at Pacific Creek landing near Moran Junction.

Meanwhile, the agencies propose to do away with roads including the River Road, a roughly 15-mile-long gravel road along the west side of the Snake in Grand Teton. The River Road would be closed if the Snake River changed course and washed out the route.

"That road is a real challenge. It's in some significant wildlife habitat. It's heavily used by a variety of wildlife, from pronghorn to elk to wolves. The road is degrading and eroding into the river," Grand Teton spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said Monday.

"It's an old wagon road, basically. Its most common use today is for commercial wildlife viewing."

Also, most of the Cattleman's Bridge Road would be closed and restored to nature. Cattleman's Bridge Road is a gravel road less than a mile long near the Snake River near Jackson Lake Junction.

Dispersed boat launching sites would be eliminated and other boat launches would be redesigned or moved to protect the river and nearby areas.

Written comments on the plan may be submitted online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/snakeriver or in writing to Superintendent, Grand Teton National Park, PO Drawer 170, Moose, WY 83012.

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