My knowledge of the Rock Creek area proposed for wilderness goes back over six decades. I first came to this area when I was three years old when my family vacationed at Paradise Ranch in the late 1940s. Every available weekend this past summer I spent at least one day riding in either the Rock Creek area or the Cloud Peak Wilderness.
I am in complete agreement with the wilderness proponents that Rock Creek contains outstanding wildlife habitat and amazing back-country recreation opportunities.
Why am I so strongly opposed to making the Rock Creek area wilderness?
First, there's a saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Proponents of Rock Creek wilderness have been claiming the area is in danger of losing the qualities both the proponents of wilderness and I love so much for at least four decades. The truth is that the way the Forest Service has managed the area as a roadless area has been working very well.
Second, one of the primary uses of the area is recreation trail riding. Designating the Rock Creek area as wilderness would degrade quality trail riding. One doesn't have to go any further than the Cloud Peak Wilderness to observe the threat wilderness presents to trail riding. Earlier this summer, one of my riding companions and I wanted to ride to Lake Angeline. We didn't get any more than 100 yards into the wilderness before we had to turn back because of blow down that blocked the trail.
Another time, my riding companions and I were interested in riding from Sherd Lake to Sawmill Creek. We had to turn back because of blow down blocking the trail. We then decided to take the trail to Long Lake. Again, we were forced to turn back when my wife received a 4-5 inch gash on her leg as she tried to navigate around the blow down.
I understand the Forest Service has a budget which limits their ability to maintain trails. It defies common sense to create more wilderness when the Forest Service can't maintain trails in the existing wilderness. By leaving the Rock Creek area as it is, trails can more easily be maintained with chain saws. During a conversation with a Sheridan Forest Service official, I mentioned my concern wilderness would reduce trail riding opportunities and he agreed. I would find it ironic if Wyoming supported a proposal which reduced recreational horseback riding opportunities.
Third, the proposed Rock Creek area is mostly dense lodgepole pine. Unlike the threats the wilderness proponents suggest, a much bigger threat is the inevitable lightning strike that is going to set off a forest fire similar to the one that occurred above Big Horn only a few years ago. When this happens, I want the Forest Service to be able to use all available means to fight the fire rather than to have its hands tied. The proponents will tell you exceptions can be made, but this isn't reality. We don't have to look any further than the difficulties Gov. Bobby Jindal had in getting permission to build burms to protect the coast of Louisiana from the BP oil spill to understand how long it can take for the federal government to grant exceptions. The wrong fire might leave Story in ashes before an exception gets granted.
Fourth, bark beetles have gotten to the Rock Creek area and I believe the Forest Service should be able to address the problem with all resources they deem appropriate.
Fifth, wilderness designation of the Rock Creek area will create safety issues. Over the years, the agencies having jurisdiction over wilderness have adopted increasingly stricter interpretations of the act, to include forbidding signage. Every year numerous wilderness users get lost. Proponents say the regulatory authorities can make exceptions. I called the Sheridan Forest Service office to clarify the signage issue. The Forest Service official e-mailed me, "I think what is interesting in light of what we talked about on the phone about people getting lost on the Kekakabic trail is values of self-reliance and discovery that our wilderness managers are managing for," which means you shouldn't need signage in a wilderness. And you know, he's right. Personally, I just want to continue enjoying trail rides in the Rock Creek area. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm getting a bit old to want to test my self-reliance.
Sixth, wilderness designation will impose unneeded regulations on users of Rock Creek. Users of the Cloud Peak Wilderness are required to register before entering the Wilderness. The registration form lists 12 acts prohibited in the Wilderness, among them a prohibition against "hitching, tethering, restraining or hobbling a horse or other saddle or pack animal to a live tree, except while loading or unloading." I can understand why the Forest Service would want to restrict users from tethering animals to trees around the high mountain lakes where there are very few trees, but to extend that to Rock Creek makes no sense.
Kim Love of Sheridan works for KROE/KWYO/KZWY/KYTI/KLQQ.