Combining two major national forests in Idaho/Wyoming is controversial

Plans to combine the Caribou-Targhee and the Bridger-Teton spark criticism-

Once there was the Teton National Forest and the Bridger National Forest in Wyoming. Next door in Idaho their was the Caribou National Forest and the Targhee National Forest.

Seeking efficiency, and perhaps other goals, a generation ago the U.S. Forest Service combined the Bridger and the Teton to make the large Bridger-Teton National Forest, which includes all the national forest land in Western Wyoming except for the Shoshone National Forest. Similarly, but more recently, in Idaho the Caribou N.F. was combined with the Targhee N.F.

Now plans are afoot to combine what were originally the four separate forests.

Combining national forests is not just a mere administrative matter of small concern. Typically a Western town or city looses a large supervisor’s office and a lot of staff when a merger takes place. For example, when the Caribou NF headquartered in Pocatello, ID was combined with the Targhee in St. Anthony, Idaho, both places lost their big Forest Service office. A new “S.O.,” as insiders call it, was built in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a small city mid-way between St. Anthony and Pocatello.

If the B-T National Forest is now combined with the C-T in Idaho, where will the S.O., the headquarters be? Amusingly, what will it be called? The “Bridger-Caribou-Targhee-Teton” is quite a mouthful.  “BTCT” sounds more than faintly bureaucratic.

Furthermore, each national forest has a forest plan, meticulously created over time, subjected to much public comment and research and often going into effect only after withstanding numerous lawsuits from various groups. Because different forests have different resources emphases in their plans, including wildlife habitat, management on the ground can change in unforeseen ways.  Movement of offices can also affect how easy it is for local residents and groups (outsiders too) to visit and interact with forest personnel.

Orginally the boundaries and names of the national forests were set forth by Congress. Strictly speaking, it was been with a wink and a nod that these combinations have have allowed. There are many of them now, e.g., the Salmon-Challis, the Wallowa-Whitman, Wasatach-Cache. Perhaps Congress should look into this.

The BTCT, if we can call it that, would be the largest national forest south of Alaska, and it would include much of the nationally precious Greater Yellowstone country’s public land.

The Jackson Hole News and Guide gives the controversy’s perspective from Jackson, Wyoming where the Bridger-Teton is currently headquartered. Critics hit forest merger. Two question motivations for consolidation as agency underscores potential savings.







  1. Jay Avatar

    “Combining national forests is not just a mere administrative matter of small concern. Typically a Western town or city looses a large supervisor’s office and a lot of staff when a merger takes place.”

    Less government and more fiscal responsibility, right? How could these primarily republican communities possibly complain about greater government efficiency? Oh yeah, its call hypocrisy.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine


    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      Does this have anything to do with less government and more fiscal responsibility? If so, maybe you can tell us.

      1. Jay Avatar

        It was tongue-in-cheek Ralph–ostensibly, fewer FS offices and fewer employees could be equated to fiscal responsibility.

      2. Jay Avatar

        It was a roundabout way of illustrating the hypocrisy of the anti-government repub.-types that flip off the government with one hand while accepting their gov. benefits with the other (e.g., the woman at the McCain rally that was bitching about big government while simultaneously saying they better keep their hands off her Medicare). In this case, rural communities that benefit from the economic contribution of agencies like the Forest Service.

        If you’re suggesting that I strayed from the subject at hand, duly noted.

        1. WM Avatar

          Federal jobs are some of the most stable, better paying (including benefits, and prestigious than any others, in many of these small communities in the West. Those benefits are what also reliably pays the doctors, dentists and the hospital bills (and gives a sense of scale for those communities to offer services for all residents, whether they can pay or not. Also, a number of them are filled by college educated, and more “worldly” and somewhat enlightened personalities. If these jobs go away or are relocated, some of these communities will lose services, revert even more to their 19th Century values, that some here deplore. And, unfortunately the communities will be poorer, both econonmically and intellectually, for it.

          Another practical impact by Forest SO consolidation is that if there are folks having to do field work they will be spending more time travelling longer distances to where the work is done. The standard work day then becomes as much as half consumed in travel. A federal government worker works no more than 8 hours including travel time, or they get 1.5 their hourly wage (there is of course the occasional 4day/10hour work week).

          I remember long ago working on a FS summer crew. We had a job far away from the work center. Took almost two hours to get to it on gravel roads. We had about an hour of time to finish up at the end of the day. The crew boss said, “pack up, we’re out of here, and we will come back tomorrow.” An empassioned appeal from myself and the rest of the crew to just stay and finish up, and maybe sleep in an hour the next day, fell on deaf ears. So, the next day we drove the two hours on really crappy rutted roads out to the job, did our hour of work, and drove the two hours back to the work center. It, of course, was too late to go back out in the field that day, so we did stupid and non-value added busy work for the remainder of the day. Ain’t that a hoot – your federal tax dollars at work, sort of.

          Same thing will happen when some road engineer, historic preservation, landscape architect, recreation specialist, or other resource manager who works out of the larger consolidated Forest Supervisor Office has to go 50 to 75 miles or more from office to field location for a half day of work. Think how much travel time and gas is wasted. Wonder if that is figured into their cost savings, negative impacts and ultimately justification?

          1. elk275 Avatar


            Hey, when I worked in Yellowstone National Park several times we left Mammoth and drove to West Thumb, worked 1 1/2 hours had lunch and worked 1 1/2 hours and drove back to Mammoth. There was no complaints with the crew. Two and one half hours each way we were tourist enjoying our park and being paid five hour each day. I am going elk hunting now everyone enjoy there turkey.

          2. SAP Avatar

            Excellent points WM – was thinking the same things while were simul-blogging! Have seen the same things as a contractor.

            Learned along time ago that a contractor paid by the job cannot work with FS employees being paid by the hour, unless they’re really dedicated. I’ll work from breakfast to dark and camp at the jobsite; they’ll spend a lot time in the truck, as you describe.

        2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          When I think of it that way, seems agreeable to my own thinking.

      3. SAP Avatar

        I think there is an argument to be made that a lot of these SO level admin tasks could be consolidated. But, I would like to see the savings converted back into field-going staff at the Ranger District level.

        Ralph, you raise a very good point about having an SO within reasonable range so that citizens can have access to decision makers.

        My understanding of the way the old forests were laid out was that the administrative networks were built with horseback travel in mind. There were guard stations that were all about an easy day’s ride apart from each other (close enough that a ranger could check out a few things, maybe do some work along the way, while leading packhorses). The guard stations (and/or “work centers”) were administered out of Ranger District offices in nearby towns, which were in turn overseen by the SO.

        [interesting to look at the history of some of the old Forest Reserves, like the Absaroka NF, Crazy Mountain NF, and so on. See ]

        From a purely boots-on-the-ground standpoint, I’d like to see more focus on Ranger Districts, less on SOs. Anything that helps staff really get to know the Forest, and frees them up to spend more time out there “caring for the land” — fighting weeds, managing fire, replacing culverts, ticketing miscreants — is a good thing.

        Unfortunately, consolidation fever has affected Ranger Districts, too.

        Apart from the access-to-decision makers point (which is an important one), I can see an argument for massive consolidation at the SO level, and a wholesale renaissance at the District level. There is so much that could go horribly wrong with this idea under current circumstances that it shouldn’t happen for now. Namely, Congress needs to hand down some 21st Century direction as to what these lands are for.

        The likely thing — since the higher GS folks know how to look out for themselves and how to scratch the right backs — is that Ranger Districts will continue to suffer and the upper admin levels will at least maintain, perhaps increase, their share of the budgets and power.

        1. WM Avatar


          I think on some National Forests the Ranger Districts have already been consolidated, possibly more than is desired, maybe as long ago as 20-30 years.

          An example of a now abandoned work center is the Naches RD about 20 miles west of the town of the same name in Eastern WA. It was a huge complex built by the CCC, beautiful, functional buildings, crew quarters, family quarters in newer as well as older single family homes. Everything you thought a FS compound should be for the time and well into the 1980’s. A similar RD complex, though a bit smaller was built on the Tieton River (follows US 12), the next drainage to the south. Now, so I am told, everybody works out of the town of Naches , lower in the valley and mostly out of the forested areas about 15 miles (lower elevation and sage brush interspersed with fruit trees). Vehicles are now parked in a shadeless lot behind a sterile chain link fence, and the employees in a 1960’s style crappy one story facade office building, probably rented from some local real estate baron.

          Oh, and those beautiful CCC constructed buildings, in the shaded forest are just rotting away behind chain link fences, not being used or maintiained by anyone. And, there really is nobody within the working areas of the ranger district offices who know the land, or are available to answer questions, and effectively patrol or service the campgrounds, or quickly respond to emergencies.

          Similar situations down on Columbia near White Salmon on the Gifford Pinchot NF, with boarded up and once architecturally beautiful and functional work center complexes, that in my opinion could be salvaged. In another 10 years or so the only thing that will remain of these slowly decaying remnants of the CCC era, will be the historic preservation photos and reports of the HABS/HAER program in the Library of Congress. Then the government will let contracts for deconstruction of these facilities at some extraordinary high demolition cost. No doubt here are other stories like this throughout the West. Sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine. And, yeah, I know fiscal responsibility with smaller budgets is important as the functions carried out in these forests have diminished considerably, so not as big a need for so many employees in so many places.

          1. Nancy Avatar

            “No doubt here are other stories like this throughout the West. Sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine. And, yeah, I know fiscal responsibility with smaller budgets is important as the functions carried out in these forests have diminished considerably, so not as big a need for so many employees in so many places”

            So is there a reason WM why these places can’t be contracted out to locals (or anyone) willing to make use of the buildings in a beneficial way? Learning centers, visitor centers, gift shops etc. with regard to the area?

            Thinking outside the box?

            Like this thread currently running here:

            “Sun Valley area wolf and sheep project shows sheep predation can be greatly reduced without killing wolves”

            We’ve got what? 2 million people (mostly men) lounging in prisons around the country. Average cost to taxpayers $25 grand a year, per prisoner.

            What about offering the thousands, incarcerated for crimes other than murder, rape etc. a chance to work off their time in the great outdoors, working trails, following cattle and sheep around, as an answer to a non-lethal approach to predators vrs. the millions spent each year on predator control.

            I know, sounds like the good old days and “chain gangs” but the idea behind the CCC was based on putting unemployed young men to work, and in this day and age, young men unfortunately make up most of the population, behind bars today


            Just tossing that thought out there 🙂

            1. WM Avatar


              Your idea gets my vote. Different times and different reasons to try to create a positive environment for idle young men (mostly). Doing something good and constructive, instead of keeping these idiots behind bars, watching TV, lifting weights, with the highlight of the day, waiting for the next meal, has no redeeming social value.

              I don’t know about turning these sites over to the private sector, but I think there have been a few attempts to do that.

            2. JB Avatar


              I like your idea as well, but I would suggest targeting the unemployed FIRST with the idea of preventing crimes of desperation and keeping otherwise good people out of prison.

            3. aves Avatar

              That’s a great idea, Nancy. But the prison industry wouldn’t want to do anything other than continue profiting from repeat offenders and unfair sentencing. But as JB mentioned, all the unemployed folks could benefit greatly, as would society.

        2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
          Ralph Maughan


          I hope, and think you might be right about this, although thoughtless budget cuts seem unending. Does anyone think the people who will soon be negotiating cuts to solve the “fiscal cliff” know a thing about this?

          See my comments on the history RDs of the Caribou National forest elsewhere in these comments.

  2. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Another merger was the Coeur d’Alene, Kaniksu, and St. Joe into the Panhandle National Forest in north Idaho.

  3. topher Avatar

    Patrolling the forests near Pocatello is already near non existent.Will it improve after the merger? I seriously doubt it.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Living in Pocatello myself, I agree. On the other hand the district ranger seems to have more autonomy, but it might just be that I like him better than the long-time, now retired ranger.

      I didn’t say anything about the ranger districts, did I, just the S.O.? I should add a comment about this.

  4. Mike Avatar

    Not a fan of the mergers, for reasons WM discussed and others.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    The original article only spoke of the merger of national forests, but ranger districts, the next level down have been consoidated too.

    When I moved to Pocatello, Idaho 40 years ago, on the Caribou National Forest there was the Pocatello Ranger District, the Malad, R.D., the Freedom (ID/WY) R.D., the Soda Springs R.D., and the Montpelier R.D.

    The Freedom District quickly was closed down and added to the Soda Springs. Much later the Pocatello and Malad were merged to create the West Side R.D..

    When the Cache National Forest was merged with the Wasatch in northern Utah (creating the Cache-Wasatch) that part of the Bear River Range on the Cache that extended into Idaho, was informally transferred to the Caribou and added to the Soda Springs R. D. Folks in Soda Sprs. and Pocatello still call this area of mountains the “old Cache.”

  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    With all of the wildfires we have had, I hope they are not cutting things too close and will have staff available who know the lay of the land, and also to protect against poaching the wildlife.

  7. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
    Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

    Ida – some U.S. Forest Service employees have legal authority to enforce state wildlife regulations (poaching violations e.g.) but have a very role in wildlife population management. Each state has the legal authority/responsibility for the wildlife within it’s borders, regardless of ownership of the land.

    1. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
      Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

      …but have a very small role in wildlife population management…

  8. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    One sad story and one happy story,both interesting,always something with wildlife happens out west,but the sad story is very bad,another bear dead for nothing.Did the hunters have bear spray?

  9. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    Just a note in D.E.P.; New York City pays the most, state pays second and the federal government pays the least.This is for Department of Environmental Protection is a city agency,the state and Federal are called EPA.Same thing but the title is a little different.

  10. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    P.S. It seems forest service always gets the firest cuts.This not right to me,but seems like this is what happens.

  11. Jeff Avatar

    A lot of this discussion origninated in Jackson due to the high cost of housing. Tbe BTNF headquarters is an older building and a lot of FS personel lived in Alpine and commuted to Jackson daily. When the FS decided to sell and rebuild their headquarters in Star Valley or Pinedale the local elected officials nearly went beserk. They tried to get voters to approve $15 million in local tax revenue to pay for the 10 acre lot on the north side of town thinking that the USFS might be persuaded to stay if the town bought the land and somehow incentivized officals to stay and rebuild locally…voters soundly defeated this measure as nothing was guaranteed and the town was thinking of paying well over the appraised value of the land…we’ll see how it plays out. I would guess the BTNF officals and its plan is much more of a preservation/recreation minded document and I’d assume the CTNF personel and mgmt plan are more extractive and tradtional in design.

  12. Kayla Avatar

    Personally I live here in Jackson and I am against this merger. The Bridger Teton has a pretty good record of being more preservationist minded while the Caribou Targhee is more seemingly extraction minded. This in my opinion would not be good for the local National Forest lands in the area. Plus it would seem us locals would not have as much of a say so on the happenings in the local National Forest lands. There is other ways they could trim costs like having those administrative personnel in the National Forests have a trim in their salaries, etc. How often I have seen budget cuts in the National Forests and National Parks with the personnel out on the lands be cut but the big wigs salaries who administer everything, never having their salaries cut or anything. And anymore there is hardly no one patroling in the backcountry with all the resourcees just going to the front country. This of seeing hardly no forest service personnel is onething that I have bigtime when I wander the backcountry. How often the first thing that is cut is the backcountry just for the front country doings. Do personally think that this is not right. and if their are budget cuts, those head administrative personnel should take a cut also. But that Never Happens it seems. I will make my voice heard on this locally if it means anything. If this merger goes thru do think it will NOT – NOT be good for the local NF lands in the Jackson Hole area and local policy.

    Just my opinion and two cents worth.

  13. CodyCoyote Avatar

    From four national forests spanning a state boundary, consolidated to two, now proposed to become one… from a historical perspective looking back at the four, what has really been gained by the consolidation ? What changed ?

    What I have seen in Cody WY , the HQ of the vast Shoshone National Forest ( first in the nation , by the way ) is a consolidation of Ranger Districts beginning about 1986 give or take. The result has to my mind been counterproductive . Today we have fewer FS workers actually in the field, far fewer in the back country , and as a result much less trail maintenance; closed campgrounds; higher fees ; more ” volunteerism and FS using Tom Sawyer feints to get the public to do their work for them ( for a fee ). Perhaps the most disturbing effect of this district-level consolidation has been the diminishment of law enforcement and range cons and others who actually were onh the front lines of forest management , hands on boots scuffed, and are now scarce. As a consequence, we have an alarming increase in wildlife violations, ATV’ers are running amok and making new 2-track trails, and a host of other negative issues. Then you hear the local FS guys complain about having to spend all their time behind a desk . Or more ominously , seeing their budgets depleted or radically shifted by fighting wildfires, which now seems to consume at least 40 percent on the entire US Forest Service budget yet is not adequate.

    So while I cannot actually address the issue of merging whole forests in order to theoretciallyr educe costs and increase efficiency is downward budget cycles, I have to say that on the ground, District downsizing has been mostly negative to my Shoshone Forest operations and lawful users and recreationists. The vigilantes are thriving.

    By the way , in my part of Wyoming, nearly 35 cents of every payroll dollar is from a federal job of some sort, or federally supported state government job…not 35 percent of the participants in the labor pool, but 35 percent of the gross income, because the federal jobs pay better and you can get by with just one of them , whereas the blue collar lesser educated folk skew the statistics by having to have 2.5 jobs in the service sector to equal the one good job provided by a federal agency.

    I do not think that Wyoming has really thought it through if they think getting rid of the federal government presence would be so wonderful for our rugged individualist state . My state seems to get back at least $ 2.00 in federal goods and services for every dollar it gives up in taxes, before the jobs picture is focussed in.

    Reducing the federal presence is one thing…secession would lead to utter anarchy and a sudden thrust back to the Dark Ages should it come to pass ( it won’t, but serves as a target scenario for discussion’s sake ).

    Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana should be careful what they ask for in wanting the ‘damn Fedrull Gubbamint’ to go away…

  14. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    And yet, our clueless leaders refuse to cut back on subsidies to oil companies. You can tell just what is valued by what gets cut or thrown under the bus. 🙁

  15. Nancy Avatar

    “I like your idea as well, but I would suggest targeting the unemployed FIRST with the idea of preventing crimes of desperation and keeping otherwise good people out of prison”

    JB – totally agree but would it not be better to address the populations that are right now lounging in prisons around the country, costing millios, with another option?

    I’m thinking many of these people have families who are already painfully aware of what got their loved ones into a life of crime.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan