As the Bighorns got busier and busier last summer, we heard horrifying tales of human waste and toilet paper that was not properly buried, campfires that were left unattended or that were not properly extinguished, drivers that had left roadways, and of course, lots of campers who had set up camp for what seemed like the whole summer, ignoring the Bighorn National Forest’s 14-day limit for camping in one location.
The Bighorn National Forest consists of over 1.1 million acres of pristine forests, glacial lakes, alpine meadows and sheer mountain cliffs. It is one of America’s oldest government-protected forests. It is the crown jewel of northeastern Wyoming, drawing recreation and outdoors enthusiasts who visit the forest to hike, ski, rock climb, bike ride, view wildlife, bird, picnic, camp, swim, fish and just enjoy the wonder of the place. And it’s in danger of being loved to death.
Since its founding, the Bighorn National Forest has been a destination for local and regional outdoors enthusiasts. But with the increase in travelers seeking solitude and as Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and Bridger-Teton National Forest get increasingly busy, the Bighorn National Forest has become more popular than ever.
For those who understand what a gem this forest is, these abuses are distressing and upsetting.
So, what’s to be done?
First, locals who value this forest resource must be the best stewards of it. That means observing all posted forest rules, adhering to the Leave No Trace principles and setting a sterling example for responsible and ethical use of the forest. It also means pitching in for volunteer projects.
Earlier this spring, the Bighorn National Forest released a “Partnership Guide” that identifies 11 specific projects that the forest service is actively seeking volunteers to assist with. (The guide can be accessed at fs.usda.gov/main/bighorn/workingtogether). The needs range from trail maintenance to butterfly monitoring — you need not be a weekend warrior to find a way to volunteer. In fact, a host of local agencies are teaming up to put on a weed pull event on Friday. All you need is a willing spirit and strong back; the agencies will provide you with information to identify which weeds need to be pulled.
Locals can also be advocates for the forest. There is a lot going on regarding public lands at the federal level and with the Bighorn National Forest locally. Educate yourself and reach out to local and federal officials to let them know you support our national forests.
Finally, the U.S. Forest Service simply does not have the manpower to police the entire Bighorn National Forest. But citizens can help by being the forest’s eyes and ears. If you see someone abusing our forest, make a note, take a photo with your cellphone and report it to the proper authorities. Together we can protect our most valuable asset for generations to come.