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JHTTB votes to continue partnership with Friends of Bridger-Teton to manage visitor impact on the National Forest

By Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board

In a public meeting on May 9, 2024, the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board (JHTTB) approved a $600,000 funding request from Friends of Bridger-Teton for the Ambassadors for Responsible Recreation Program intended to educate visitors and manage visitor impact on Bridger-Teton National Forest. For the third year in a row, the JHTTB voted in favor of allocating lodging tax funds to Friends of Bridger-Teton after hearing that previous year’s funding contributed to improved visitor behavior, mitigated risk of human-caused wildfires, and limited human conflict with wildlife.

Through community partnerships, the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board is able to allocate lodging tax funds to local organizations who can further work that enhances the mission of the JHTTB and satisfies initiatives of Teton County’s Sustainable Destination Management Plan (SDMP). The JHTTB’s support of Friends of Bridger-Teton through this community partnership fully funds the Ambassadors for Responsible Recreation Program which promises “boots on the ground” in high traffic areas of the National Forest that require protection and management.

A report given by Dr. Scott Kosiba, Executive Director of Friends of Bridger-Teton, prior to the vote noted “zero catastrophic human-caused wildfires on the landscape where volunteers were in place and zero human-caused wildlife deaths since the program was started in 2021.” Kosiba qualifies, “I can’t say that we can claim full credit for this, but I also can’t say what would have happened if those ambassadors weren’t on the ground.”

The partnership, which will renew on July 1, 2024, includes $188,000 for ambassador and staff time, $177,000 for ambassador training and resources, and $235,000 for education and outreach directly to the visitor. With the goal of reaching the visitor where they are, responsible visitation messaging will be seen in local media, heard on the Forest’s dedicated AM 1710 radio station, and distributed directly on collateral like wood bundles sold at grocery stores.

Under the current partnership that began on July 1, 2023 , JHTTB funding has supported 11,853 total hours of volunteer service, more than 200 abandoned campfires extinguished by ambassadors, 153 food storage violations issued by ambassadors, and 89 out-of-bounds campers flagged by ambassadors. Friends of Bridger-Teton estimates these numbers are nearly double since the start of the program in 2021.

“The Bridger-Teton National Forest covers over 50% of Teton County and most visitors will enjoy its public lands during their stay,” commented Erik Dombroski, Board Chair for the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board. “Supporting the services that Friends of Bridger-Teton provides through visitor management and education is an invaluable way for us to reach visitors, and residents, in a highly impactful way.”

“Friends of the Bridger-Teton is thrilled to partner with the JHTTB to support our Ambassadors for Responsible Recreation program in Teton County,” added Scott Kosiba, Executive Director of Friends of Bridger-Teton. “This program is key to help educate our visitors and ensure they have a safe and enjoyable experience while recreating on our public lands.”

More than 15 public comments were made in favor of Friends of Bridger-Teton funding at the public meeting. Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board members also added appreciation to Friends of Bridger-Teton for the work they do for the surrounding land and community.

The vote passed 5-1 with the dissenting Board member commending Friends of Bridger-Teton on their incredible work and noting the opposing vote strictly due to equity in allocating JHTTB funding among all partners.

Through strategic allocation of Teton County’s lodging tax funds, we steward Jackson Hole toward a sustainable destination, where our leadership, marketing, management, and community engagement ensure the vitality of our natural and human ecosystems.