Across Teton County, signs featuring small metal fish are beginning to poke up from the lawns of homes and businesses.
The colorful, steel trout-shaped signs can be seen at Shooting Star, Snake River Brewing, Town Square and, perhaps, in your neighbor’s yard. They mean that whoever is responsible for the grass underneath has signed up for the “Trout Friendly Lawns Program,” which commits them to landscaping practices that minimize water pollution.
“A lot of people just want to feel like they’re doing the right thing for the waterways,” said Leslie Steen of Trout Unlimited. “They get that eventually what they put on their lawns will end up in the stream.”
As Jackson Hole grows, more development leads to more nutrient pollution in the valley’s rivers and streams, degrading water quality and threatening wildlife and vegetation. In some areas, drinking water has become unsafe.
Research shows that lawn fertilizer is a major contributor to the excess of nutrients. For example, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, 66,000 pounds of nitrogen are applied to lawns and parks in just the Fish Creek watershed each year.
The lawn program is a response to that quandary. It originated with the Jackson Hole Clean Water Coalition, which includes Trout Unlimited, the Teton Conservation District, Friends of Fish Creek and several other organizations. Collectively, they aim to keep the region’s water as natural and clean as possible.
So far, more than 80 individuals, four homeowners associations and a handful of businesses and nonprofits have gone trout friendly, said Phoebe Coburn, communications specialist for the conservation district. Besides the Town Square, the list also features three other Teton County properties: Phil Baux Park, the Murie Family Park and the library.
The program, which is based on the honor system, offers two tiers: basic and gold. The less intensive version requires participants to follow a few simple steps to limit use of fertilizer, water and pesticides.
For those willing to make a big change, the gold certification outlines a more demanding process. For example, participants can choose to install smart irrigation systems, plant drought-tolerant native species and leave an unmowed corridor at the edges.
“With the basic certification, anyone can pretty much have the yard they want,” said Carlin Girard, water resource specialist for the conservation district. “Gold is about how you can really change your landscaping practices to have a lawn that is geared toward natural resource stewardship.”
Ariel Koerber, marketing director for Snake River Brewing, said the brewpub’s lawn already met the basic criteria, but the company was glad to join the program regardless.
“It’s been really exciting to be a part of that,” she said, noting that in the future, Snake River Brewing would like to take its landscaping sustainability efforts even further.
St. John’s Epsicopal Church has also committed to trout-friendly landscaping, Rev. Jimmy Bartz said.
“We take our commitment to caring for the Earth really seriously,” he said. “On top of that, several of us in this faith community — including me — would consider ourselves to be pretty serious fly-fishermen or fisherwomen, so caring for the trout population is also in the front part of our minds.”
The fish signs were designed by local artists Abby Paffrath and Ben Roth. Coburn said the supply has run out, but she hopes to have more in the near future.
Anyone interested in certifying their lawn as trout friendly can find the form at JHCleanWater.org.