For over 100 years, Jackson Hole residents have worked to balance the needs of people with protecting the natural values of the extraordinary place we call home. As a community, we strive to find ways to coexist with the environment around us. The latest step is the 2019 review of our Teton County/Jackson Comprehensive Plan.
When early cattle grazing caused massive elk starvation, it led to the 1913 decision to buy ranchland to establish the National Elk Refuge. During the 1920s, people from all over the nation participated in this campaign. Grand Teton National Park was established in 1930 to protect the mountain range, and expanded in 1950. In 1984, the Wyoming Wilderness Act added increased protection in much of the national forests that surround us. In 2009, the Snake River was given designated “Wild and Scenic” status, providing most of the waterways in our valley an added layer of conservation.
By the 1970s, human population had grown to a point where the community started a conversation on how to better manage human development within the valley. The first zoning ordinance passed in 1977. In 1978, the Jackson Hole Land Trust was formed to help steward the most critical private land.
Two exhaustive Comprehensive Plans have been developed and approved, one in 1984 and one in 2012. Both took around five years of effort, costing millions of dollars in staff, consultant and volunteer time. Today, our community is reviewing the 2012 Comprehensive Plan to see how we are doing. The results are in, and they are mixed.
Growth management strategies to direct development away from rural open space and wildlife habitat have generally been successful. No new large rural subdivisions have been approved since the 1994 plan. More housing units are being built in existing neighborhoods. I attribute this success to the fact that bold Land Development Regulations were developed and have begun to be implemented.
Other goals of the Comprehensive Plan have not met with much success: reducing energy use and emissions, increasing affordable housing and the percent of workers who live here, slowing the growth of traffic and vehicle pollution, cleaning polluted rivers, reducing municipal waste going to landfills, and limiting wildlife vehicle collisions. I attribute this failure to the fact that few laws exist to drive progress in these areas.
Since 2012, air pollution is up 17 percent. Electricity use is up by 26 percent. Wildlife vehicle collisions still kill 500 to 1,000 animals per year. SPET funds for wildlife crossings will help, but interim measures like slower speed are needed. Over 60 percent of our municipal waste still goes to the landfill — creating the potent greenhouse gas methane. Workforce housing is not even keeping up with job growth. Forty-three percent of our workforce lives outside Teton County — making traffic worse. Teton County already exceeds the vehicle-miles-traveled target for 2035. Over 80% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector.
Fish Creek and Flat Creek are polluted. We have known this for decades and have failed to fix the problem. Land development regulations still do not exist for water quality. As the News&Guide editorial board recently noted regarding the 11 bears euthanized because people fed them: “Our community shows that voluntary compliance does not work.” Cleaning our waterways will require everyone to participate, not just some volunteers. We need clear goals that progress can be measured against and programs that can be enforced to implement those goals.
Development of natural resource protections countywide has stalled, despite a high level of agreement among the hardworking volunteer stakeholder group tasked with drafting the rules. Almost the entire county planning staff has resigned in the past year, which is hampering progress across the board.
The renowned leadership planner Peter Drucker said it best: “If planning does not lead to action you have wasted your time.” We have a good plan — let’s cherish the beauty and natural wonder of our home by implementing it.