When a neighbor knocked on Tricia O’Connor’s door last winter, she wasn’t expecting to hear there was a mountain lion right behind her house feasting on an elk kill. O’Connor has worked as Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor for three years, and every say, she still marvels at the wildness of Jackson. “Wilderness is in your backyard,” she says. “You don’t have to go very far to get away.”
Before she came to Jackson, O’Connor worked in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, where she was district ranger. In Alaska, she and her husband, Keith, who she met while working on the Lolo National Forest in Montana, started to think about finding a new place to live but took their time to find the right one. “Place means a lot to me,” she says. “We love wild places.” The couple shares a love for mountains and wilderness and found Jackson to be a perfect fit.
In her current role, O’Connor is responsible for managing the entirety of the 3.4 million-acre Bridger-Teton National Forest. It includes 1.4 million
acres designated as wilderness, 315 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers, 3,480 miles of trails, and it receives between 2 and 3 million visitors a year. While the forest includes recreational hubs like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King Mountain Resort, which operate under Forest Service permits, it also includes 360,000 acres for oil and gas leasing, as well as logging and grazing. It can be challenging to manage so much land for so many different uses. It’s also simply a massive forest to manage.
“At 3.4 million acres, it’s huge,” she says. “It’s a largely intact ecosystem, one of the largest in the Lower 48. I’m humbled to be part of that and proud of the opportunity to work here and lead a group of incredible employees and partners.”
O’Connor likes to get out into the forest and on public land whenever she can. Whether she’s skiing fresh powder on Teton Pass, biking through a sea of colorful wildflowers, or witnessing the total solar eclipse atop Crystal Butte last summer, she tries to maximize her outdoor time. She also appreciates her newfound ability to take road trips—a difficult task when she was living on the islands of southeast Alaska. A home base in Jackson allows for plenty of exploration.
“It’s a fabulous and completely different opportunity to access wilderness and have proximity to the whole Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the wildest, if not the wildest, places in the Lower 48,” she says. “Its large intact landscapes, fairly inaccessible places you can’t get to that easily—that’s part of the wildness. Wildness means it’s not easy. It’s dangerous, something might kill you, and that’s part of the reason I love it.”