Summer in the Bridger-Teton National Forest is a feast for the senses. Screeching hawks and the occasional whine from the wings of a curious mosquito punctuate the murmur of falling waters. Larkspur, geranium, and paintbrush spring from the ashes of fire scars. Strokes of color on a canvas of carbon black. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end as my colleague and I realize we’re sharing a stretch of river corridor with a pack of resident gray wolves. And no drink tastes quite as sweet as the one from a mountain stream.
It is easy to lose oneself in this place. It is easy to forget that the United States has over 600,000 miles of impounded rivers, making the free-flowing waters of the Bridger-Teton National Forest one of the last vestiges of intact wilderness in the country. Throughout the Bridger-Teton, arteries of water breathe life into the forest. Gin-clear creeks harbor a robust, albeit vulnerable, population of native cutthroat trout. Silty river banks laden with ungulate, canine, and ursine tracks speak to the vitality of the ecosystem.
Humans, though seldom seen, are no strangers to these lands either. The native trout fisheries, game rich meadows, and the recreational paddling resources offered by the free-flowing waters of the forest draw countless visitors from across the globe. Ultimately, the recreational opportunities found in the Bridger-Teton serve as an irreplaceable economic engine for the region.
Our time in the forest has made it exceedingly clear that flowing waters are the tie that binds. To preserve the connectedness of these waters is to preserve the health of an entire community of organisms and protect an unparalleled recreational asset for present and future generations. With over 70 rivers left to inventory, I can’t help but feel we’re just scratching the surface of remarkable values. As the summer progresses, I look forward to exploring, more deeply, the cultural and historical significance of these waters to Indigenous communities and Euro-American settlers. We are fortunate to have the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, both as a designation tool and as an administrative approach to managing our most outstandingly remarkable streams.
Orion Hatch works as a field technician to inventory potential Eligible Wild and Scenic Rivers on Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Eligibility Inventory is a project supported in partnership with American Rivers, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Snake River Fund