Jackson Hole, WY News

Teton County Focal Species Habitat Map

This map, prepared by Alder Environmental, examines the land and water used by 17 wildlife species, ranking their relative importance. It maps “millions” of pixels of habitat distinguishing one 30-by-30-foot chunk of land from the next. A glance at the map shows that the most high-valued habitat falls in the obvious places: along rivers, wetlands, the valley floors and lower-elevation buttes and mountainsides.

Proposed new regulations that will affect property owners across the county aim to strike a balance between protecting wildlife habitat and recognizing development rights.

“We’re moving from this binary system of, either habitat protection applies or it doesn’t apply, to a system that’s more of a gradient of habitat value,” long-range planner Alex Norton said.

“And not only does the level of review increase as the habitat value increases, but the level of protection increases as the habitat value increases as well,” he said.

For more than a year county planners and a natural resources stakeholder group have been diligently hammering out the details of that new system, which will be the first update to the natural resources land development regulations since 1994.

Central to the update is employing a new tool, the Focal Species Habitat Map, a $45,000 map prepared by consultants at Alder Environmental. The map examines and integrates land and water used by 17 wildlife species, ranking their relative importance. For at-large stakeholder group member Len Carlman the map has been the starting point for crafting the new regulations.

“That instrument maps, to a reasonable degree of accuracy, the essential habitat for 17 animals,” Carlman said. “The notion is if those 17 species have their needs respected over time, the much larger ecosystem will also persist in good health.”

The old system required a property owner to commission an environmental analysis report whenever a site fell into the somewhat arbitrary “Natural Resource Overlay,” conservation stakeholder group member Skye Schell said.

“The old NRO was one line on a map — you’re either in it or you’re out of it — and there were often questions about ‘Is this line in the right place?’” Schell said.

The new system, he said, incorporates better science. It uses the focal species map to broadly place all properties in the county in a habitat value tier: low, medium or high.

Low-value parcels are governed by “base-level” protections, while mid- and high-value parcels require further analysis, including a “boots on the ground” study. That more site-specific study helps fact-check the focal species map and determines where development could be placed on a parcel to minimize environmental impact.

The system also takes into account zoning — certain zones, like a business park, are entitled to base-level protections — and allows for some incentives if a development proposal minimizes environmental impact on a valuable site, stakeholder group member Rich Bloom said.

“If they choose to put their development impact in that lower-impact area, they’re going to be relieved from having to do further evaluation,” Bloom said.

Teton Conservation District Director Tom Segerstrom advised the stakeholder group.

“It should hopefully be easier for landowners and people with projects to get the information they need about how they can best implement their development rights and still retain the character of Jackson Hole that everybody is enamored with,” he said.

Still missing from the draft regulations is the role of migration corridors. Planners said the corridors will be layered on top of the draft regulations once the Wyoming Game and Fish Department completes a migration study.

Bloom said the new regulations also recommend requiring the entire county to use bear-resistant trash storage by 2020.

The 2012 comprehensive plan calls for such tiers of habitat protection and analysis based on lands’ relative value. The draft regulations are the culmination of a public outreach process the county began in the spring of 2017.

Last December county commissioners provided direction on what the regulations should look like. Since then county planners and a volunteer stakeholder group have been working to translate that policy direction into actual regulations.

The full text of the draft regulations can be found at Engage2017.jacksontetonplan.com.

Public comments on the regulations may be submitted through Oct. 15 to feedback@jacksontetonplan.com.

The regulations will be publicly presented to the Teton County Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners at 4 p.m. Oct. 10, followed by a public open house from 5 to 7 p.m.

Public hearings before both bodies are scheduled for later in November and December.

The regulations would apply only to Teton County, not the town of Jackson. Norton said the town plans to use the county’s regulations to inform its own natural resource regulations update.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063, county@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGcounty.

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