Wilderness Watch had urged the Forest Service to abandon its plan to re-construct the large Hawks Rest bridge over the Yellowstone River in the Teton Wilderness in Wyoming, using helicopters and other motorized equipment. The Teton Wilderness lies within the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and this part of the Wilderness has the unique distinction of being the most remote area in the lower 48 states, in terms of distance from a road.
In our scoping comments, we offered several alternatives to rebuilding this structure. We suggested two fords downriver as well as alternative routes to reach Bridger Lake. If the bridge is to be rebuilt, we urged the agency to use traditional, non-motorized tools and means to accomplish the work, and to look at more appropriate locations for a bridge.
We asked the Forest Service to complete a full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis rather than a Categorical Exclusion (CE). We believe a CE is unlawful for a project authorizing multiple prohibited uses in a designated Wilderness, including the construction of a permanent structure that will remain on the landscape for decades, and the use of the helicopters and motorized equipment to complete the project.
In 2017, the Forest Service approved the project, with work originally planned for 2020, but delayed until 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The final decision included authorization for dozens of helicopter trips to haul lumber, supplies, and segments of the 172-foot steel bridge to the site.
• Read our comments