Shoshone National Forest

Shoshone National Forest is located in the state of Wyoming. It is comprised of 2,500,000 acres of protected land and is separated into five districts including the Washakie Ranger District and the Greybull Ranger District. It was part of the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve, which was the first national forest in America, but was given its own status as a national forest in 1891.

Evidence has shown that Native American tribes have inhabited the lands of the Shoshone National Forest from as far back as ten thousand years. Modern native tribes that resided there include the Crow, Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Shoshone tribes, but the forest was named only after the Shoshone people. Today, an area known as the Wind River Indian Reservation, which preserves tribal lands, comprises 2,000,000 acres of the forest. Little exploration occurred in the forest after the nineteenth century, but in 1957, Mummy Cave was rediscovered. Studies show that this cave was inhabited by paleo-indeans for over nine thousand years and it is one of the best examples of paleo-indian archeological in the Rocky Mountains.

Shoshone National Forest is bordered by the Continental Divide, Bridger-Teton National Forest and Yellowstone National Park in the west, and by state owned, federally managed, and private lands in the east. The forest holds elevations between 4,600 feet and 13,804 feet, with the highest elevation occurring at the top of Gannett Peak. The three major mountain ranges within this forest are all part of the Rockies, but each is distinct from the other geologically. The Absaroka Mountains, which are dark in color due to a basaltic origin, are rough in appearance and extend north and south through the eastern section of the forest. The Beartooth Mountains are igneous and metamorphic and show some of the oldest rock formations in the world. These mountains are often thought to be part of the Absaroka Mountains due to their similar appearance, but were formed in a different time. The Wind River Range, located in the southern area of the forest, is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the forest due to its varying hard rock types. Shoshone National Forest holds over five-hundred lakes and 2,500 miles of rivers and streams, as well as over 140 glaciers.

Although Shoshone National Forest is located in an arid state, it receives between fifteen and seventy inches of rainfall per year due to its proximity to mountain ranges. This forest is located in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so it supports a large variety of habitats. The highest elevations only hold twenty-five percent of the total forest and the type of plant life supported in these regions depends upon the amount of water the area receives. Below this level, forests contain varying tree species including whitebark pine, subalpine fir, and Engelmann spruce. Lower elevations contain grassland areas and forests that are dominated by a variety of tree species including pines, aspens, and junipers. The forest holds several rare species that are native to the area including willow grass, shoshonea, and fremont bladderpod. It also holds non-native plants that are considered dangerous to native plants including Canada thistle and murk thistle.

Shoshone National Forest supports over 335 animal species, including large predators like black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, and the reintroduced gray wolf. Other animals within the forest include bighorn sheep, raccoons, pikas, ferrets, elk, wild turkey, bald eagles, species of trout, prairie rattlesnakes, and Greater short-horned lizards. It is also home to non-native animals including Quagga mussels, Zebra mussels, and New Zealand mud snail, all of which can be dangerous to native species.

Shoshone National Forest receives over 500,000 visitors each year and manages two visitor centers that offer educational material, maps, displays, and orientations. The forest also offers a variety of activities including camping at thirty campsites, hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, hunting, fishing, mountain climbing, the use of all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and scenic drives. The forest management places limits and guidelines on many of these activities to help ensure the health of the forest.

Image Caption: Francs Peak. Credit: MONGO/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)