Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) in western Wyoming is the third-largest forest in the continental United States. It is a key piece of the biodiverse Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to everything from charismatic megafauna like wolves and grizzly bears to birds and trout. It is also a place that has been shaped inexorably by human use and various land management strategies.
Human decision-making ultimately determines how our National Forests operate within each unit’s particular plan and mandate. Each National Forest is managed in accordance with a Land and Resource Management Plan that establishes baselines for forest health and sets goals for land management in the coming years. Along with ecology and forestry science, the United States Forest Service (USFS) also relies on the people who use the land to inform the management of the Forest. When the Forest Service writes a new Management Plan or revises an existing one, they first embark on a period of gathering public input and building relationships with stakeholders to ensure that all a variety of perspectives are represented in this process. For BTNF, this step is complex, so they partnered with Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative to explore the best ways to engage people whose voices are not often represented in planning processes.
A member of the Latinx community working near Jackson, WY
Part of the complexity for BTNF stems from the diversity of its local communities. Bridger Teton National Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan was originally written in 1990 and has since been revised in 2002 and 2015, but it will likely be due for another revision in the coming years.
The staff at BTNF’s headquarters in Jackson Hole Wyoming are aware that engaging the people who live and work in and around the National Forest is critical, and they hope to receive feedback from a range of voices. Historically, environmental groups and recreation groups have historically been vocal in public input periods and utilize the standard methods for getting their opinions heard. Perspectives of Latinx communities around Bridger-Teton, however, are often not represented in standard public input methods. The staff at Bridger-Teton hoped to create a plan for engaging the Latinx community and youth in the Jackson Hole area in the Management Plan revision process so the forest could be better managed to suit their needs.
Fellow Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative Research Assistants Eve Barnett, Jesse Bryant and I worked to assemble a document that will help BTNF connect with integral individuals and organizations in the Jackson Hole community. This document will help BTNF better disseminate information, target media campaigns, and create relationships with underrepresented communities in preparation for future Management Plan revision process. As we researched organizations, projects and individuals in the community, we found that Jackson Hole is populated with innumerable dynamic and innovative people who are working towards equity and inclusion in many sectors of the community. If BTNF could connect with them, they could also connect with their networks and exponentially increase the numbers of people who were included and engaged in the revision process.
An enthusiastic young public land owner
To allow BTNF to most effectively access the community members and organizations that we had identified, we grouped them by the kinds of opportunities for engagement that each provided. The categories are described in detail below.
Friends of the Bridger-Teton: Friends of the Bridger-Teton connects with local communities through education and outreach as well as inspires a sense of stewardship through volunteerism, ambassador programs, and memberships. BTNF may be able to lean on this organization to support or pursue relationship-building activities.
Direct Engagement Opportunities: Direct engagement opportunities provide ways for BTNF staff to directly interface with members of the Jackson Hole community. These are community events and/or gathering places where an informational booth could be placed and BTNF staff could informally build relationships with the community and disseminate important forest-related information. BTNF might be able to establish face-to-face relationships with community members at the Jackson Hole Farmer’s Market, weekend soccer games, or local libraries that are community gathering spaces.
Media Players: Media players are actively involved with creating media content such as documentaries, informational films, or social media campaigns. These media players could partner with BTNF to create content for campaigns, disseminate information to their networks, or bring their work to events for community education. Key media players include documentary film makers and an organization that specializes in media campaigns for public lands.
Hilary Byrne filming The Quiet Force
Latinx Community Organizations: These are organizations that work to make the wider Jackson Hole community more equitable and accessible. These organizations work with the Latinx community to improve quality of life, provide services to immigrants, and increase access to outdoor recreation. Building relationships with these organizations will be critical to ensure that BTNF is able to engage with and share information to the Latinx community. Providing materials in both English and Spanish will ensure that information will be accessible to the greatest number of community members.
Youth Organizations: These organizations support youth engagement on public lands around Jackson Hole and are committed to making the outdoors accessible to young people of color. BTNF could partner with these organizations to reach a wide array of young people and could elicit their help in continued education and outreach campaigns.
It is our hope that our research will allow Bridger-Teton National Forest to more effectively connect with underrepresented people in the Jackson Hole community to increase equity and inclusion in all decision-making processes. Ideally, future revisions of the Land and Resource Management Plan will accurately reflect the needs and desires of everyone who uses or interacts with the National Forest and connections made during this process will remain strong. An equitable process will ensure that both humans and non-humans can thrive in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Eve Barnett, Research Assistant | Eve Barnett is studying environmental policy and hopes to work on public land conservation issues after she graduates. Before graduate school, she earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, then worked for the National Park Service in CA and WA. She learned about the complexities of effective stewardship during her time with the NPS and hopes to gain new perspectives while at Yale. She is particularly interested in finding strategies for preserving natural resources for future generations while also ensuring that opportunities for solitude and recreation remain accessible. In her free time, she loves to backpack, ski, and forage for mushrooms. See what Eve has been up to. | Blog
Jesse Bryant, Western Resources Fellowship | Jesse came to Yale F&ES after four years of work in Wyoming and Idaho with NOLS and Teton Science Schools. While at F&ES he has been studying environmental conflict, governance, and media. His ongoing research project involves investigating and resolving conflict that has arisen between the powerful rock climbing community and residents of Ten Sleep, Wyoming. In the future he intends to cultivate a career that leverages the public sciences and humanities in order to imagine solutions to the worlds most pressing problems. See what Jesse has been up to. | Blog
Haley Leslie-Bole, Research Assistant | Haley is a Master’s of Environmental Management candidate specializing in political ecology and human dimensions of environmental challenges. She is particularly interested in applying perspectives she has gained from the social sciences to land management challenges in the Rocky Mountain West. Haley has spent most of her life living, working, and exploring in the West starting with her childhood in California and continuing with her BA from Colorado College and her outdoor education work in many Western states. See what Haley has been up to. | Blog