Protect Teton County Wildlands

Wyoming counties are currently involved in the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. The purpose is to determine which Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) should be designated as wilderness and which areas will be released to other land exploitation.

These are public lands that belong to all Americans, not just the residents of any county or state. They are part of our national heritage. As such Wyoming has a special responsibility to think beyond a local perspective. Whether any Wyoming counties have any legal authority to determine the fate of federal lands is questionable, but there is no doubt that Wyoming has a terrific opportunity to voice support for wildlands protection.

Specifically, Teton County contains some of the finest wildlands in the country including Grand Teton National Park. Residents of the county benefit from these wildlands in multiple ways from the economic boost the parks and wilderness bring to the area, as well as the abundance of clean water, wildlife, and outstanding scenery that these wildlands confer upon county residents.

However, there are still unprotected areas that deserve formal and legal protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act. They include the Palisades. An area of lush subalpine meadows and steep canyons, approximately 54,000 acres are in Teton County, part of a much larger roadless area that extends into Idaho. The Bridger Teton National Forest rated the Palisades as 12 out of 12 points in a 2008 evaluation of its wildlands qualities.

Palisades above Pole Creek Canyon, Targhee Caribou NF

Former Vice President Dick Cheney helped to protect the Palisades as a Wilderness Study Area back in the 1980s when he was a Congressman. Ironically his daughter Rep. Liz Cheney appears anxious to remove protection for the Palisades which her father wisely established.

Indian Creek frames Tetons, Palisades, Snake River Range, Targhee National Forest, Wyoming

Dick Cheney was recently quoted in the Casper Star Tribune where he asserted “I am a conservative. I ran one of the world’s largest energy service companies after I’d been in Congress,” Cheney said. “I felt then that it was important that some parts of the state are preserved and protected on account of development would permanently alter and change the territory.”

Beyond the Palisades other Teton County wildlands that deserve federal designation as wilderness includes 132,000 acres in the Mount Leidy Highlands. This area of rolling forested hills and beautiful sage meadows lies between the Teton Wilderness and Gros Ventre Wilderness. It is a critical link for migrating wildlife and contains some of the best big game habitat in the state.

Mount Leidy, Bridger Teton NF, Wyoming

Several other larger roadless areas that extend beyond Teton County include the 300,000 plus acre Grayback Ridge Proposed Wilderness south of the Hoback River, of which some 26,000 acres are in Teton County.

Grayback Ridge, Wyoming Range, Bridger Teton NF, Wyoming

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, local conservationists including the biologist Olaus Murie were advocating for a 400,000 acre Gros Ventre Wilderness. Fortunately, the opportunity to complete the vision for the Gros Ventre still exists.  There are about 11,000 acres in Teton County that are part of the Shoal Creek addition on the southern face of the Gros Ventre Wilderness. The entire Shoal Creek roadless area is part of a larger 105,000-acre potential addition to the wilderness.

Granite Creek, Gros Vente Mountains, Bridger Teton NF, Wyoming

Bordering the southern edge of the Teton Wilderness is a 23,000 or so acre Blackrock-Pacific Creek addition to the wilderness. This is home to grizzlies, elk and other wildlife that is representative of the Bridger Teton National Forest.

Teton Wilderness, Bridger Teton NF, WY

Finally, even though the access is through Idaho, the west slope of the Tetons is in Wyoming. There are approximately 40,000 roadless acres, much of it covered with aspen, one of the most important wildlife habitat types available, that could be added on to the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.

western slope of the Tetons.

When wilderness is gone, we lose it forever. I hope that Teton County demonstrates the wisdom to see that protecting these wildlands is a gift to the nation, future generations, and a way to pay back our debt to the planet that has nurtured us.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

George Wuerthner