Fire danger elevated to high for Jackson Hole public lands
The fire danger has been raised to high for Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and National Elk Refuge as of Wednesday. The announcement from Teton Interagency fire managers came amid a continued forecast for warm and dry weather.
“The landscape may look green but there’s a lot of dead and down timber and fuels that can carry the fire right now,” said Raena Parsons, visitor services manager for the National Elk Refuge. She and other officials warn that fires can start easily and spread quickly in current conditions. As a result, recreationists should reconsider starting campfires. Any campfires that are started need to be completely extinguished before moving out of a site.
In other public lands news, Yellowstone National Park continues to reopen areas that were closed after historic flooding in June. The park announced Wednesday that the popular backcountry area Slough Creek is now open again to overnight permit holders and approved commercial guides.
Statewide suicide prevention hotline now has 24/7 Wyoming coverage
Wyoming’s statewide suicide prevention hotline is now staffed 24/7 by Wyoming residents, Gov. Mark Gordon’s office announced Monday. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has been available in Wyoming for many years but calls were answered entirely out of state until 2020. Part-time state coverage started that year, and the state legislature allocated funding to support full-time coverage earlier this year.
Jackson also has a locally-staffed 24/7 crisis line run by the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, where Deidre Ashley is executive director. She said suicide is a major public health issue across the Rocky Mountain region and specifically in resort towns.
“It’s definitely a concern for not only Wyoming but here locally to address the issue, and I think the more resources we can give people that are accessible when they need them, the better.”
Ashley also said getting a call answered by a professional located in Wyoming will better help connect Cowboy State residents to local resources. The statewide number is 1-800-273-TALK and the local crisis line is 307-733-2046.
START Bus seeks feedback from regional commuters
Southern Teton Area Rapid Transit (START) is evaluating its bus services for Teton Valley and Star Valley residents. The department is looking for survey feedback from both existing and potential future customers. Bruce Abel, interim transit director, said he wants to hear how START can improve services for workers who commute to Jackson.
“We have some funding included in the upcoming year’s budget to expand the commuter service, and so we’re looking at two options,” Abel said. “Would it be more useful to our customers to expand the number of trips on a weekday? Or would it be more useful to our customers to implement service on the weekend?”
Surveys can be completed in either English or Spanish through a paper form on a bus or online. Abel said the expanded services should be in place by the upcoming ski season. He also said START is working on updating its technologies so that customers can look up the real-time location of the bus they’re waiting for and pay fares electronically.
Fish Creek Road residents raise alarm
A group of residents who live on Fish Creek Road in Wilson are expressing concern about the impacts of an ongoing driveway construction project at One Wildlife Ranch near what’s known as watercress pond. Annie Band is one of nine community members who made a public comment Monday at Teton County Board of Commissioners meeting. Band is a former conservation wildlife biologist who used to do environmental assessments for proposed developments for the county.
“I really don’t know how to state strongly enough how completely shocking this road cut is,” she said. “It is something that never, in a million years, would I ever have recommended go through.”
Band and other residents said the driveway is cutting through critical wildlife habitat and blocking access to the water source beneath the slope. They also said the 20-foot width of the driveway is unnecessary for the one single family home that’s been permitted for construction. However, developers have aspirations to eventually build a new subdivision that would be serviced by the road–a separate project that has not yet been approved.
“This road would have been much different if there was no expectation of county approval of more lots,” summarized a resident named Paul Vaughn.
Asked to respond to residents’ allegations that the county hasn’t provided enough oversight, Teton County Engineer Amy Ramage said the road is within the county’s standards. She also confirmed that the issue of mitigating wildlife impacts was not part of the permitting process. Now that the permit has been issued, any mitigation efforts would need to be voluntary.
“There are opportunities to work with the landowner. It would require them to come to us with those. I would be happy to help facilitate that but I don’t feel like it’s the county’s—it’s at least not my position—at this point, with an issued permit, to give them specific direction on how they could do mitigation.”
Ramage also said commissioners could take action to strengthen the county’s Land Development Regulations moving forward.
Teton County Search and Rescue launches campaign to buy helicopter
The Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation is launching a $6.6 million fundraising campaign to buy a helicopter dedicated to year-round use by the search and rescue (SAR) team. The team currently leases a helicopter for eight months of the year, leaving a gap in the summer and early fall when most American helicopters are needed to fight wildfires.
Liz King is the foundation’s preventative search and rescue manager. Speaking Monday to the Teton County Board of Commissioners, she said she spends a lot of her time analyzing rescue data.
“I have no doubt from what I have seen that a Teton County owned and operated SAR ship is going to save lives,” King said. “It will save lives by serving the people injured in the backcountry and it also will likely save lives by providing the volunteers of our team with the highest level of risk management, with an excellently-operated program that they have control over.”
Other SAR officials explained that they analyzed the costs of leasing year-round versus buying a helicopter and determined that buying leads to lower annual operating expenses because of exorbitant summer helicopter rental prices. King said the foundation’s goal is to raise the money to buy the chopper and then turn it over to the county to own and operate.
Teton County SAR has never had a year-round helicopter at its disposal since it was founded in 1993. The campaign is called “Mission Critical.”