Bighorn National Forest gets public input on sporadic camping solutions

Bighorn National Forest officials have held public meetings in communities across northern and northeastern Wyoming this summer asking for public input on solutions to scattered camp issues.

The problems increased as more people moved into the forest, cause problems In forms such as overcrowded camp sites, increased traffic, as well as increased human waste and environmental degradation issues.

“There have been many members of the public who have mentioned the same or similar concerns, so this is going to be a greater impact on the resources,” said Andrea Mishak, Recreation, Land and Heritage Officer at Bighorn National Forest. “Plus, there are the social influences and that’s crowding.”

Six meetings are planned this summer. Mishak said the meetings so far have been well attended by the public. The Forest Service also wanted to clear up some misconceptions about solutions to camping problems.

“There are a lot of people who think we don’t currently enforce any of our current regulations, which is not true,” she explained. “We’ve actually been actively implementing our existing regulations, one of which is the 14-day maximum stay.”

Other misconceptions they deal with are related to staff monitoring of camping sites.

“I know the public thinks we probably aren’t [enforcing regulations] “Because we have too few staff in the field, where we can’t cover every foot on the ground, we can’t cover the whole forest,” she said. “[However]Our field staff are actively there, checking the camps and imposing a 14-day stay limit where they can.”

The problems of dispersed camps are not new and have only gotten worse over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic drove many people into the woods in 2020 and 2021. This year’s visit was lower and in line with regular visit trends, although Maichak attributed the fuel price hike to preventing some from traveling and increasing this year’s numbers. The use of Bighorn National Forest is also increasing outside the state.

She explained, “Another common theme we’ve heard is people’s desire to have different regulations for residents versus non-residents.” Our message [is] We told everyone in the community that [about] is that this is a national forest, so we can’t make different regulations for out-of-state visitors versus out-of-state visitors. This was an interesting topic that I was picking up on.”

A scattered, citizen-led camping task force makes proposals for these long-term problems. So far, some of the work team’s suggested solutions include creating a sticker program, which will require campers to have a visual sticker for their vehicle to reduce 14-day stay limit violations. This could be implemented next year or in 2024, Mishak said, following a process that would charge the label. Another proposal from the task force would be to identify and assign Dispersed camping siteswhich could go into effect next summer if approved.

“While this is not a formal process, we still take public input very seriously,” she said. “And then when we actually have our recommendations that we’re going to move forward with, there will be another opportunity for the public to come back and provide feedback on those specific actions.”

Maichak said they also want to debunk the perception that any solutions are meant to reduce camping opportunities for the public and that public comment will not play a role in Forest Service decision-making.

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