FEATURE: Conservation Nation

By on February 3, 2015

JH Alliance’s Agenda 22 asks locals to be a part of the solution.

 

The Jackson Hole of the past. What does the future hold?

The Jackson Hole of the past. What will the future hold? (Photo: Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum: 1958.0550.001)

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(Photo: Collection of the Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum: 1958.2585.001)

 

Jackson Hole – located at the intersection of two national parks, a national wildlife refuge, and five national forests and wilderness areas – seems poised for the national, if not the international stage when it comes to conservation.

However, contrary to our pristine image, Jackson has the highest per capita energy use in the United States. According to the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, we burn up energy at nearly twice the rate of the average American household. Many small-scale solutions (don’t forget to switch to compact fluorescent lights!) make small dents in these statistics. But in order to become the conservation town that is the example for other mountain communities, it will take bigger initiatives. The 2012 Jackson and Teton County Comprehensive Plan sought to address this need for a wider community vision. Additionally, there are more than a dozen local stakeholders in the valley in both the private and public sectors tirelessly focused on conservation issues. Among this list, the long-standing Alliance recently grabbed headlines for its new campaign, Agenda 22, which calls for robust community engagement.

On January 21 the Alliance took over St. John’s Episcopal Church and Rectory to launch Agenda 22. Craig Benjamin, Alliance executive director, sums up the feeling of that gathering in one word: “Energy.”

Although Agenda 22 is solely an Alliance initiative, they highlight success stories and resources from their community partners. Partners like Energy Conservation Works, which offers low-interest loans to make energy efficient upgrades and repairs to existing structures, and Jackson Hole Land Trust, which have made town parks such as Karns Meadow, a reality.

After spending the evening hearing about the plan, at least one third of people signed up to volunteer for one of the Alliance’s campaigns that are a part of the Agenda 22 blueprint. These campaigns include:

• “Transportation Transformation,” a roadmap for improving how we move through the valley, from expanding public transit, to investments in walking and cycling infrastructure, and improving safety for wildlife with wildlife crossings, all without expanding our highway systems.

• “Neighbors with Nature,” a community planning campaign targeted at creating a better balance between development and nature by directing growth out of rural areas, updating land regulations, and finding avenues to create permanent open space.

• “Wild Neighborhoods,” helping homeowners become responsible land stewards by reducing wildlife conflict, allowing free movement of wildlife, preparing for wildfire, and protecting existing habitat. This campaign coalesces myriad partners, including Conservation Research Center of Teton Science Schools, The Cougar Fund, Grand Teton National Park, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, The Murie Center, Teton Interagency Fire, Teton Raptor Center, Wyoming Game and Fish, and Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

• And the catchy “Don’t Poach the Powder” campaign, which raises awareness about winter wildlife closures so that during the most stressful season for wildlife sensitive habitats remain undisturbed.

Upon unveiling Agenda 22, Benjamin says he has observed fervent community interest. “Something I’ve seen is that everyone is excited about a proactive vision and being a part of something bigger than themselves,” he said.

Since 1994 the Town of Jackson and Teton County have had a joint comprehensive plan, addressing issues such as zoning, transportation and wildlife. The revision took five years and 40 public meetings, and culminated in 2012 with the adoption of the newest iteration of the Comprehensive Plan.

In short, the community agreed to adopt a “single vision plan with a triple bottom line – ecosystem stewardship, growth management, and quality of life,” explained Alex Norton, Jackson/Teton County planner.

Norton says that at the time, “the common sentiment was that we had worked through the issues. It was time to implement and move forward with [the Comprehensive Plan].” And just because the Comp Plan exists to guide our community moving forward, “that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for nonprofits to fill in any perceived needs or gaps in the plan as well,” Norton said.

Get hip to the new Agenda

Indeed, Agenda 22 is bigger than one individual, and aims toward long-reaching and lofty goals for a growing community. Agenda 22 addresses community planning, wildlife conservation, transportation, housing and energy, while also touching on other issues like food, waste, water and wildfire.

Agenda 22 doubles down on our long-term community vision, but we as a community still have a big hurdle to overcome. It is our human nature to allow long-term goals to crumble in the face of immediate needs. Benjamin sees the community spending a lot of energy “wrapping ourselves around every hot issue of the day. Wouldn’t it be better if we channeled all of that energy [into] working together towards a vision of a better future and working to advance political solutions that helped protect our wildlife, wild places, and community character?”

Benjamin advocates that folks keep their eyes on the prize by “focusing on long-term outcomes and working together as a community on the challenges we face. If we can step back as a community and work together on becoming the type of community we want to be, then we can get this done.”

Sounding suspiciously like Agenda 21, a United Nations conservation initiative launched in the early 1990s, one might draw a connection between the two plans. Much derided and a source of many right-wing conspiracy theories about world domination and top-down governmental control, Agenda 21, a comprehensive action plan intended to help countries and communities transition into a brighter and better 21st century, has languished on the conservation vine.

“I’ve been working in conservation advocacy for nearly a decade, and I haven’t heard of anyone working on Agenda 21,” Benjamin noted. Although this may be true, the comprehensive nature of Agenda 22, along with its focus on long-term outcomes and community involvement make it similar in more ways than just name only. In a town where conservation ranks high among values, this might just be the kind of place where a small name change can make all the difference. But in the end, “It might be a bit of a joke about [Agenda 21’s name],” Benjamin admitted.

The green house effect

When you’re scanning the classifieds hot off the press for that one bedroom apartment to share with four of your friends so you can afford to live near work and town, you’re probably not thinking, “This is a real bummer because it’s a conservation problem.”

Even with the Teton County Housing Authority’s continued efforts to provide affordable housing options, the choices available to Jackson Hole’s swelling populace remain limited. Many people commute long distances, through the Snake River Canyon from Alpine, or over Teton Pass from Idaho, burning fossil fuel along the way, and potentially disturbing, or worse, hitting wildlife. The Alliance is concerned not only with fuel and wildlife, but that those who commute also spend more time away from their friends and families, and often end up between communities, not fully engaged in one place or the other. At the moment, living in town also doesn’t improve matters as cramped, expensive, and unsafe living conditions are pervasive.

During the summer months, many resort to living out of their cars in campgrounds and roadsides, areas that quickly become unsightly and unsanitary. Last summer, by some estimates, there were as many as 200 campers living in the Shadow Mountain and Curtis Canyon campgrounds, creating hazardous conditions for humans and wildlife. Over the course of the summer, Forest Service reported many unattended, smoldering campfires, increasing the risk of wildfire. These are direct and immediate conservation concerns due to the lack of affordable and local housing.

The Alliance contends that the housing crisis has reached a conservation breaking point. It has set a target of having two thirds of our workforce living locally, similar to the Comprehensive Plan’s target of 65 percent. To accomplish this, Agenda 22 outlines a combination of housing trusts, updates to land regulations, and incentivized private construction as potential solutions.

The Comprehensive Plan also sets the objective of “a concentrated development pattern, allowing us to minimize our ecosystem impacts.” Since the adoption of the 2012 Comp Plan, some affordable housing initiatives have helped local families stay in the area, but persistent labor shortages across all businesses, evidenced in a bulging-at-the-seams “help wanted” section week after week, indicates there is still much work to be done. With everyone on the same page that the issue of housing needs to be addressed, and even a relative consensus on how to fix it, the next step, funding, seems just out of reach.

Writing the checks

Agenda 22 lays out bullet-pointed and illustrated solutions such as encouraging locally produced renewable energy, and building a network of wildlife crossings. However, grand plans often come with grand bottom lines. As far as finding sources of funding, the Alliance is still figuring that part out by “working with a number of our partners and stakeholders in the community,” Benjamin said.

Previous partners of the Alliance have included the Yellowstone-Teton Clean Energy Coalition and Jackson Hole Land Trust. The Alliance has identified three distinct sources of funding to pursue – public, private, and individual.

“We strongly believe that our public investments should align with our values,” Benjamin said.

However, Benjamin is quick to point out that funding shouldn’t be sourced solely from the public. “The private sector can play a significant role,” he said. This approach may spark some unlikely partnerships.

Jeff Hymas, executive director of the local Tea Party chapter, agrees. “The Conservation Alliance and the Jackson Hole Tea Party have identified some of the same problems,” Hymas said.

But Hymas believes too many of the Alliance’s solutions “rely on the force of government, and that’s where we diverge.” Hymas points out that the Tea Party’s core principle relies on the freedom of choice, rather than the force of government. He contends that “applying government force is not the remedy at all, it actually causes more problems. The solution is tax-free markets and limited government.”

Although the Tea Party wants many of the same outcomes – workforce housing, wildlife protections, and public transportation – Hymas says they want to work with the Alliance to achieve these outcomes in a free-market fashion.

So there is at least one point that the Alliance and the Tea Party can agree: it all boils down to individuals.

The Alliance wants YOU

“Individual folks, on a number of these issues, can play a significant role,” Benjamin noted. And this is where Agenda 22 shines. Every section of Agenda 22, from community planning to transportation, features a section called “What You Can Do.”

Although heavily dominated by the suggestion to “Sign up to volunteer!”(the Alliance is a nonprofit after all) other ideas range from “walk, ride your bike, take transit, or carpool to work one day a week,” to  “lower the temperature on your hot water tank.” The Alliance encourages people to not only volunteer for their campaigns, but also with their partners like the Land Trust, Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, and jhnaturemapping.org, where you can record your wildlife sightings to help scientists understand where sensitive habitats and corridors exist in the community.

Many of the solutions call for policy changes, so for those who want to become involved on a political level, the Conservation Leadership Institute, spearheaded by the Alliance, provides guidance for the next generation of community leaders.

And for the most creative and motivated, Agenda 22 has identified four main areas of concern that still require solutions. Jackson’s cold climate makes farming difficult, and the Alliance is concerned about the community importing more than 96 percent of its food. Strong farming industries are not far away, however, and Idaho, Montana, Colorado, and Utah could supply us with many of our grocery needs. An innovative solution to link Jackson Hole to those food networks may go a long way toward food sovereignty.

Closely related is our waste, the equal but opposite export we dump on other communities. Useable waste solutions, such as Hole Food Rescue, which delivers salvageable food slated for the dumpster to people in need, can help us with our dirty habits.

Also, related problems of water and wildfire will become increasingly urgent as we move toward a hotter climate. The Alliance hopes that creative and thoughtful solutions, backed up with strong community partnerships, can help us move through and past some of these challenges.

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Agenda 22’s MO

• An action plan that helps inform and organize the community

• Builds and expands upon the Town and County’s Comprehensive Plan

• Supports citizen-led and partner conservation campaigns

• Holds elected officials accountable for making decisions aligned with our community values

Comments

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About Karyn Greenwood

One Comment

  1. andy

    February 5, 2015 at 9:23 am

    great illustration: wildlife in neighborhoods, historic downtown, trailer parks, couch surfers, landslide, and more

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