Grand Targhee Expansion: Fire Risk Too High

Grand Targhee Expansion: Fire Risk Too High

Fire risk too high

Grand Targhee Resort wants to expand. In addition to a proposed acquisition of ski terrain on public property, they want to build 450 new units on private property at the base. The problem is they want to build the first of these cabins only 10 feet away from the U.S. Forest Service boundary in an area of high wildfire risk.

As an expert in wildfire ecology and mitigation I am concerned about the possible approval of this development without addressing the real danger to life and property from wildfire. Wildfire science tells us that fire behavior is controlled by three factors: weather, topography and fuels. All three of these variables are working against the fire risk of this proposed development. The problem fire would spread to Grand Targhee from Forest Service lands that are downwind, downhill and covered with the “heavy fuels” of a closed-canopy forest. This is a trifecta of risk; fire burns more intensely and rapidly when it burns uphill, is pushed by the wind and is burning in heavy fuels.

This is why Ranger Jay Pence, of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, has asked for a much larger setback from the forest boundary (300 feet). Pence knows the likelihood of fire spreading from his forest to this development — and he knows the extremely dangerous speed and intensity of such a fire. His forest will also make the decision to put firefighters’ lives on the line to defend these cabins, and that is why he is asking for adequate room for defensible space. It only makes sense that if guests are perched high in the forest, adequate planning and precautions have been taken to provide room between the forest and the structures for firefighters to protect them from wildfire. Without this defensible space the guests, cabins and firefighters will be in harm’s way.

The 10-foot setback offered by the developer will do virtually nothing to slow fire spread or reduce the need for fuels reduction on public land. With only a 10-foot setback the Forest Service will need to mitigate fire risk on their side of the boundary with large-scale fuel treatments that will be costly, detrimental for wildlife habitat and paid for by taxpayers rather than those who will benefit from this development. To make matters worse, Targhee’s proposal was submitted without a fire mitigation or emergency management plan.

When the private property line was determined, the higher-quality habitat was intentionally left on the public side of the boundary. By situating the cabins so close to the boundary the development forces forest clearing in the higher-quality habitat for the protection of this vulnerable development at the public’s expense — a double loss for public lands and taxpayers.

This development should not be approved as it is currently planned due to wildfire risk and the lack of willingness of the developer to provide fire mitigation between the structures and public land. These real risks to life and property need to be addressed before this development can go forward.

Kevin Krasnow
JHCA, Conservation Director

Phone: (307) 733-9417
685 S. Cache St. PO Box 2728
Jackson, Wyoming 83001