Grand Targhee Resort is seeking approval for a major expansion proposed in their 2018 Master Development Plan. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest (CTNF) is evaluating the proposal through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as a part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The proposal would impact the local wildlife, public lands, economy, housing, and community of Teton County WY and Teton Valley ID. Targhee is proposing ~900 acres of boundary expansion towards the Jedediah Smith Wilderness Area, which is critical habitat for isolated populations of bighorn sheep and grizzly bears and within the Canada lynx area of influence. The expansion would more than double the amount of skier capacity (from 3,000 to ~6,200 skiers/day) and compound pressure on housing, transportation, emergency and medical responders, local infrastructure, and natural resources…
…but this expansion is not inevitable.
Explore the Issues
The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance (JHCA), in partnership with the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA), Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD), and Teton Backcountry Alliance (TBCA) engaged local and regional experts to research and produce a Community Impact Assessment.
The assessment outlines the potential impacts of the proposed Grand Targhee Resort expansion and other Master Development Plan projects. This assessment predates the release of Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Explore the topics of concern below.
When considering the wildlife impact of a project on the scale of Grand Targhee Resort’s massive expansion in terrain and services, an understanding of the context is vital. Wildlife species generally need features such as suitable seasonal habitats, freedom to move about between those habitats, and areas where they can find security from human disturbance. The historical and geographic context for wildlife disturbance in Teton Canyon and Mill Creek includes the original construction of the resort access road through critical mule deer winter range in lower Teton Canyon and the subsequent upslope expansion of the resort itself later in the 1960’s. Additionally, there is increased wildlife disturbance due to the more recent dramatic expansion of recreational use at the bottom of Teton Canyon and the Mill Creek trail in all seasons, as well as growing backcountry activity throughout the area. Grand Targhee Resort is now proposing expanding into what is left: a band of highly used wildlife habitat at mid-elevation on the north slope of Teton Canyon (South Bowl) and deeper into Mill Creek. Our ongoing activities have pushed a remarkable array of wildlife into a narrow area of premium importance to their persistence—and Grand Targhee is threatening to develop what habitat remains.
South Bowl has long been recognized as vital winter range for many native ungulates, including bighorn sheep, moose, mule deer, mountain goat, and elk. Predatory species found on Teton Canyon’s north slope include cougar, wolverine, black and grizzly bear, coyote, and potentially wolves and lynx. South Bowl also supports birthing and summer range for ungulates, as well as migratory pathways to lower elevation habitats and mineral licks. Of particular concern are impacts to the sensitive Teton Range bighorn sheep population, a population at risk of local extinction. Resort expansion into ‘South Bowl’ will ultimately lead to high levels of human activity in all seasons, to the detriment of early and late winter, spring, and summer uses by bighorns. The sheep will also likely be cut off from access to an important mineral lick below the project area in the Apostle cliffs area. Ironically, in recognition of Teton Canyon’s winter habitat value and potential, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest earlier entered into agreement with Wyoming Department of Game and Fish to complete vegetation treatments, specifically prescribed burning, in the lower South Bowl. We encourage the Forest Service to optimize the value of South Bowl for bighorn sheep in consideration of this population’s severe habitat limitations.
The more heavily forested area in the Mono Trees portion of upper Mill Creek is security habitat for deer, elk, and moose, including winter range for moose and nesting habitat for sensitive bird species, such as goshawks, great gray owls, and boreal owls. Conservation of old growth forests such as those found in the Mono Trees area is a priority for the Forest Service, and compromising these habitats would conflict with the Caribou-Targhee Forest Plan because of their importance for many sensitive wildlife species. Overall, Grand Targhee’s proposed expansion would increase year-round, industrial scale recreation into the Mill Creek area, which would severely impact one of the few remaining wildlife security habitats that remain in this area.
Threats to Wilderness often bring to mind physical incursions behind designated boundaries, but in reality, indirect, cumulative actions can be equally harmful to wilderness character. The proposed expansion of the Grand Targhee Master Development Plan into the South Bowl of Teton Canyon represents the latter: a ripple effect of changing land use, displacement, and increased access that endanger the character of the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.
The South Bowl has functioned as sidecountry between the current Grand Targhee footprint and the Jedediah Smith for decades. In those years, its value to and use by the local recreation community has grown significantly. While the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act prohibits the deliberate creation of buffer zones around Wilderness areas*, the South Bowl serves as an intermediary between developed and primitive recreation opportunities. In that context, the proposed expansion will impact established community land use patterns. Displaced backcountry enthusiasts will likely seek to replace lost opportunities and experiences within the adjacent Wilderness. In doing so, they will redirect a human presence deeper into federally protected wildlands.
The proposed expansion is projected to double the resort’s daily carrying capacity to over 6,000 guests. The motorized infrastructure, roads, and trail networks needed to service that number of people will also ease access and direct guests towards the Wilderness. Because there are no natural barriers in South Bowl, like the cliff along the backside of the existing resort boundary, resort infrastructure could provide several thousand guests entrance into the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. If that happens, the most durable federal land designation will be reduced to commercial sidecountry, diminishing its purpose and degrading its character. This influx in recreation traffic will concentrate human presence where it was never intended and put new, undue pressure on the Jedediah Smith, as well as the Caribou-Targhee National Forest employees tasked with safeguarding it.
The character of the Jedediah Smith Wilderness area and integrity of the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act are preserved as long as Grand Targhee remains within its existing boundaries. Without a robust enforcement and monitoring strategy from the Caribou-Targhee National Forest to mitigate impacts from the South Bowl expansion, our public wildlands will diminish. The economic growth of one private resort should not take priority over the right of the American people to experience and engage in these protected and resilient landscapes now and into the future. * 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act, Sec. 504.
Grand Targhee is located within the “wildland-urban interface” (WUI), the transition zone between undeveloped forest and lands developed by human infrastructure. Human settlements in the WUI are at a greater risk of catastrophic wildfire, and in this era of climate change there are more frequent and severe wildfires across the West each year. The lands around Grand Targhee are characterized by forest types that have evolved with infrequent, but severe wildfire. It is not a question of whether the lands around Targhee will burn, but when. Ski Hill Road is the only access and egress route for people living and recreating in Alta, at Targhee, and in Teton Canyon – in the event of a wildfire or other emergency it is expected that this road will have a high likelihood of becoming blocked with traffic. Increased use and new facilities in and around Grand Targhee will increase the number of people at risk at the resort, raise the likelihood of a human-caused wildfire, while also making it more dangerous and difficult for emergency services to respond and people to evacuate.
Fire risk at the base area development: The base area of the resort has been classified as a high fire hazard rating (Clausson, 2023), and any development in this area will need to seriously consider fire risk and how to appropriately mitigate this risk. The current development plan that has been preliminarily approved has the buildings set back from the National Forest boundary by only 10 feet (Ranger Pence of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest has requested a 300 foot setback for fire mitigation. The Alliance feels that GTR needs to do more to mitigate fire risk at the private development at the base area and will be watching the Fire Mitigation and Emergency Management Plan put forward in the development process.
As we consider the proposal to expand Grand Targhee Resort beyond its current boundaries, let us consider a few facts. First, backcountry skiing is the fastest growing winter sport in the country, if not the world. Second, Teton Canyon – with its glorious vistas, wildlife habitat, and tranquil soundscape – is a precious resource for newcomers and old timers alike. As many who grew up in Teton Valley remember, Teton Canyon is a place of fond memories of family hikes, picnics, and fun cross-country ski tours. Third, the landscape at the higher elevations of Teton Canyon provides opportunities for world class adventure, including high angle rock climbing and alpine camping, and, in winter, acres of deep powder skiing. Expanding lift serviced skiing into the South Bowl of Teton Canyon will change the character of Teton Canyon dramatically in all these areas. Lift skiing in South Bowl will require avalanche control, which will disturb wildlife and visitors’ backcountry wilderness experiences. It will also add considerable risk to those backcountry travelers electing to approach ski slopes from below.
The sight and drone of ski lifts will mar the view and soundscape not only in winter months, but also in the summer, assuming that Targhee’s lift served mountain biking operations will eventually extend to that area. Moreover, the opportunities for backcountry travel will be significantly diminished, as an ever-expanding human footprint encroaches further into the wildlands of the Tetons. To be sure, the new lift up Peaked will make the South Bowl more accessible and increase the number of backcountry users. This impact, however, pales in comparison to the addition of mechanized downhill skiing to Teton Canyon. Hence, the proposal to expand Grand Targhee Resort into Teton Canyon raises the question of priorities, and forces us to ask if, in this instance, can society elect to limit “growth” and preserve a sacred wild place that nourishes our human spirit. I suggest that we can.
The mobility and transportation impacts of the proposed expansion of Grand Targhee Resort are of critical concern and need to be objectively assessed in the Forest Service’s analysis. These impacts will be felt most acutely on Ski Hill Road as more people travel to Targhee, but there will also be significant transportation impacts to the regional transportation network that must be considered.
Ski Hill Road is a two-lane road that already experiences significant congestion. If skier capacity is doubled, this problem will only get worse. Access for emergency vehicles will be extremely challenging during peak travel periods, and a typical ski day will involve time spent in gridlock. Additionally, the significant increase in base area services will create many (predominately low wage) jobs and dramatically increase the number of guests from outside of Teton County. These new residents and visitors will add a large volume of trips to an already near-capacity regional transportation network. This will further exacerbate the increase in traffic problems and extend far beyond Grand Targhee into communities downslope from the resort and over the pass into Jackson Hole.
Between August and October, 2020, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest opened the Grand Targhee 2018 Master Development Plan Projects to the NEPA process, beginning with a public scoping comment period. During the scoping period, 385 comments were submitted to the Forest Service project website, raising concerns ranging from scenic viewshed to socio-economic issues, and regional transportation to wildlife impacts. Over the last year, SE Group (the consultant hired by the Forest Service to write the EIS) has been reviewing the scoping comments and preparing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).
The release of the DEIS evaluating the expansion proposal has been pushed back to late spring/early summer of 2022. The Forest Service recently released a number of changes to the proposed expansion following the public scoping period in response to concerns within the Forest Service and from the public, as well as a FAQ explaining the updates. After the DEIS is released, the public will have a 90-day minimum period to provide comment before the draft is finalized. The DEIS comment period is the most important opportunity for community members to raise concerns not addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement or highlight important issues with the existing draft.
As we await the DEIS, we have the opportunity to learn more about the proposal, the impacts it may have, and ways to proactively engage with and be involved with the NEPA process (to learn more about the NEPA and EIS process, see the consultants’ StoryMap here.)
How You Can Get Involved
The Alliance hopes to facilitate a grassroots coalition campaign to encourage inclusive public engagement throughout the NEPA process on the Targhee expansion. By learning more about this issue and engaging at public comment opportunities, you can contribute to community driven change in our neighborhoods, wild lands, and the places we call home. The next opportunity to get involved in the EIS process will be providing comment after the DEIS is released; however, there will be opportunities to engage workshops, meetings, and outreach in the meantime to prepare for its release.
Make a contribution in support of this campaign and our work, and sign up below to receive the Alliance’s Targhee expansion updates.Donate to the Campaign
Opportunities for Future Public Comment
- Teton County, Idaho Board of County Commissioners Town Hall #2 (Date TBD)
- Caribou-Targhee National Forest Draft EIS Comment Period (90 days following publication of DEIS)
- Teton County, Wyoming approvals by Planning and Zoning and/or Board of County Commissioners for base area development (design review, amendments)
- This will happen in phases, and in some cases will require board approval – each time there is a trigger within the PUD, there will be an opportunity for public comment and review.
Sign up for updates
Resources and Media
Additionally, with the approval of the Forest Service, SE Group has developed a website that further outlines the EIS project, addresses FAQ’s, houses relevant documents, and provides updates on the process.
Save Teton Canyon is a group of Teton Valley, Idaho; Teton County, Wyoming; and nationwide citizens concerned with ‘preserv[ing] the culture, community, and liveability
of Teton Valley by reining in the expansion of Grand Targhee Resort.’
Alliance Objection Letter to the Grand Targhee Cabins
March 1, 2023 | Alliance Letter
‘National Forest mulls keeping Targhee ski resort out of beleaguered bighorn sheep range’
January 19, 2022 | Article: Jackson Hole News and Guide
‘Grand Targhee Owner Discusses Proposed Expansion During Town Hall’
December 17, 2021 | Radio Story: Jackson Hole Community Radio
Summary of the Teton County, ID Town Hall Meeting
December 15, 2021 | Alliance Summary
‘Geordie Gillet, Forest Service set to attend Q&A about Targhee expansion’
December 14, 2021 | Article: Jackson Hole News and Guide
Op-Ed: ‘Fighting for the Backcountry and Community Identify as Grand Targhee Proposes Expansion’
November 18, 2021 | Article: Backcountry Magazine
CLI participants lobby County Commissioner to help fund impact stud on proposed Grand Targhee expansion
October 30, 2021 | Alliance Blog
‘County approves contract for Grand Targhee expansion analysis’
October 27, 2021 | Article: Teton Valley News
Grand Targhee seeks to expand – what does that mean for “the quiet side of the Tetons”?
October 1, 2021 | Alliance Blog
Grand Targhee Resort Expansion Updates
September 25, 2021 | Alliance Blog
‘Snow King post-mortem and lessons for Grand Targhee’
September 15, 2021 | Guest Shot: Jackson Hole News and Guide
‘Is Expansion the Salvation of Small Ski Resorts, or Their Demise?’
September 1, 2021 | Article: Ski Magazine
‘Caribou-Targhee NF mulls Grand Targhee’s expansion plan’
September 1, 2021 | Article: Buckrail
‘Teton Valley anxiously awaits Targhee’s fate’
August 4, 2021 | Article: Jackson Hole News and Guide
‘Proposed Grand Targhee Expansion Raises Concerns in Teton Valley’
July 16, 2021 | Radio Story: Jackson Hole Community Radio
‘Grand Targhee, WY Will Only Get 1 of the 3 Proposed Expansion Lifts Due to Avalanche Risk’
July 15, 2021 | Article: Snow Brains
‘Idaho Commissioners ask Teton County, Wyoming for Targhee study’
July 8, 2021 | Jackson Hole News and Guide
‘Grand Targhee Resort Announces Over $20 Million In On And Off Mountain Projects’
April 20, 2021 | Article: Grand Targhee Resort
Formal Request to Drop Interim Cat-Skiing from Project Proposal
January 21, 2021 | Letter: Grand Targhee to Forest Service
Grand Targhee Resort 2018 Master Development Plan
2018 | Planning Document