There are Two Distinctly Different Visions of the Future for Island Park at Odds Here
Jean Bjerke gets a lot of space in this paper every week, I asked Ann to extend to me the same opportunity. She graciously has agreed. My article this week is two-part. One is research I am submitting from a field trip perspective as a guest researcher for the IP News. The second part is strictly my opinion.
Part 1. Field trip.
The last two weeks have been interesting. Not intending a field trip to learn about wildlife overpasses and fencing, our Family drove across the length of Wyoming and Nebraska to take our Boys to play some baseball in Omaha. We drove on 1-80 most of the way and experienced what a major transportation route truly is. Yes, we do get trucks through Island Park, but nothing like that truck traffic…there were hundreds and hundreds of trucks traveling 70+ mph for thousands of miles, split 4 into 2 lane interstate.
If you ever travel the length of Wyoming, you will discover that there is not much but broad expanses of open and panoramic desert land there. There are also hundreds and hundreds of antelope interspersed with a few deer along the roadway. Miles and miles... and miles of fencing is erected and necessary as in much of the ranching West, to prevent domestic cattle and as an added benefit for the wildlife as well, from grazing next to the busy roadway. It is placed well back and beyond the highway easement examples we know here. Sadly, even with the fencing, we witnessed several dead animals along the road, more on that single trip than are recorded in Island Park in one year.
Through Pindale, I was particularly interested. I had never been there before. We had not reached the I-80 junction at that point, and were traveling I-191. The truck traffic was less on this roadway. There were more underpasses than overpasses, and they were engineered where the topography naturally led to a draw where they could be placed under the road, they were hardly noticeable to a traveller. Each one had a significant volume of hazing wildlife fencing to and away from them, intended to ‘encourage’ the animals to cross at that point. The interstate was higher in these places with the fencing below you, if you were not looking for either, a casual or uninterested traveller may not have noticed them at all.
The overpasses were a different story, they were highly visible-you travelled under them-and they were ’the view’ where they stood. Not just one, but 2 systems of fencing, before and after the structures were placed on both sides of the roadway. There were NO HOMES where the overpasses were located. The wildlife fencing height there is intended for smaller mammals, it was not the height required for wildlife fencing for big game species such as elk, moose, and bison.
In Pindale and Sublette County, the research shows that the people and the leadership of that jurisdiction embraced the overpass and underpass builds. They were experiencing hundreds of animal deaths on their roadway. Willing landowners entered into conservation easements to accommodate the need for private lands to supplement the builds, all stakeholders were in fact, a part of the design and development process of this system across that Wyoming county. The Wyoming state legislature also approved the re-allocation of state road and bridge dollars to fund it.
I can find no research that speaks to any effort, led in large part by a small group of part-time residents who partnered with influential NGOs, WY DOT-FHWA, and WYFG to act as ‘a quiet coalition’ in order to work on this project for years ahead of the project reveal. I cannot find any research that speaks to a scenario where The People of Sublette County or their elected leadership and business organizations were not coordinated with or were caught unaware of the effort to do this.
Such is not the case here and there is no comparison between the locations, human livability environment, WVC/wildife numbers along the roadway, environmental realities, or the recreational area aspects between Pinedale and Island Park.
The one thing that is exactly similar between us are the special interests behind this mitigation solution advocacy, and in some cases the exact same personalities are involved.
Pinedale and Wyoming wanted them, and in fact, the research speaks to the fact that they embraced the impact and believed in the need for them, they also embraced the partnerships.
'Want and need', 2 vital components that qualified and justified both the change the structures and the fencing make to the landscape and livability environment of this community, and which justifies both the significant initial, and continual maintenance investment on the part of the State of Wyoming. It was their choice.
Near Jackson massive rebuild is happening too, thats been happening for years. The Old Jackson many of us remember has long ago disappeared. Teton County Wyoming is adopting a wildlife crossing plan as an addendum to their land use planning and these will be constructed over the next several years. WVC are a reality with high numbers of animal mortality there. The People there want this. Yellowstone to Yukon, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and local land trusts and other smaller NGO advocacies are heavily invested in that effort. So is the NPS, together they are working to engineer and re-design that gateway community to Yellowstone and the farther reaching footprint of that national park.
"Areas which are identified as core and connectivity habitat, are the focus of restrictive management practices on public lands, and are the focus of land acquisition and conservation easements on private lands."
Their words, not mine.
Part 2...The irony of it really hit home for me as I traveled away.
We are not Pinedale and we don't want to be Jackson. We are Idaho, not Wyoming. The heart of the wildlife overpass advocacy for Targhee Pass is based in Bozeman, Montana. The west entrance gateway to Yellowstone is located in West Yellowstone, Montana connecting on to Big Sky. Montana DOT endorses the concept.
We don’t desire to become an extension of those either. If wildlife overpasses and tall fencing are embraced by the citizens and the community of West Yellowstone, Montana, and residents who live in the extended Bozeman and Big Sky area, then I speak to you, you have the same connectivity potential to Yellowstone that we have. The same species of ‘greatest conservation need’ that have been identified by the USFWS and state fish and game agencies inhabit and move through your landscape. So take this project that you wish us to bear the impact and burden of and which you so strongly advocate for, and move it 6 more miles up US 20 and build it there.
Targhee Pass and the greater area of Island Park are beautiful. Those of us who are standing up to the advocacy that seeks to blast and bulldoze away Targhee Pass want you to know there is more to the story than just 134 people who have paid for a 1/2 page ad in this newspaper this week.
Behind this advocacy are organizations and agencies who have hired contract and career persons who analyze roadways for wildlife overpasses and underpasses and provide the foundational science to justify overpasses in multiple western states, and do so for a living. They are associates or part of organizations who network together to work to promote the mitigation solutions massive builds provide, and they have created powerful partnerships with state and federal agencies to get it done. They want to realize a vision they have designed, that they can slap their name on it and further make careers out of and fulfill private agendas.
Some of them are also contractors who have significant side interests that include holding patents for the wildlife crosswalk mats and who have established a contract business that provides the pre-fab crossing structure foundations. They all anxiously await ITDs upcoming decision here, and stand ready and poised to make millions not only here, but also across our state, and on into other western states.
Idaho is their pilot.
I believe that the vast majority of Island Park home, land, and business owners do not have any desire to become a large tourist attraction, we get our fill of that each summer. We have no desire to become an extension of West Yellowstone to accommodate their overflow because they are running out of development room, or to that larger point Yellowstone itself, because it desires to grow. The economy of Island Park, and the domino effect it would have to larger Fremont County should our property valuations decline and effect our tax base or our recreational economy become impacted subsequent to this project becoming reality, have very sobering implications. If we are fenced off and multiple structures are built to accommodate multiple wildlife species corridors and associated required habitats, Island Park as we know it will die. It will take some time, but a future with our children enjoying the Island Park we have now will never be.
The past two weeks I have also attended county commissioner meetings. The IPSWP advocacy was there to speak both times against myself for one, and any effort for our county to be able to vote on a wildlife overpass initiative on the upcoming November ballot. They don't want it…and they fear it. The power of a local voice, illustrated through a ballot initiative, cannot be denied or ignored by either ITD, the IDFG, or the FHWA and the USFWS.
We have stood on such before.
Many IPSWP proponents have a primary residence in another state and say that they will be disenfranchised if this vote is held. Not true, they have a choice, they can declare their residency and vote here if they want to, they just cant be one person who gets to vote in multiple states. The same can be said for opponents of wildlife overpasses that outnumber them 20 to 1. Thousands of them have signed our petition registering their voice through that forum. The IPSWPI poo-pooed that petition, claiming anyone can sign it, but they had no problem soliciting signatures from everywhere and registering comment the same way during the scoping comment periods for this project. They are making a big deal now about how ‘local’ they are and paying for newspaper space to do it.
Trying to have it both ways, I found that entertaining.
At a pivotal point in that meeting they were asked where they all lived in Island Park, and would any of them have to look at fences or an overpass out their front window or have them impact their property or access to the forest?
Not a single person raised their hand.
There are two distinctly different visions of the future for Island Park at odds here involving this issue.
The advocacy that is trying to stop irreversible change from coming to Island Park are filling the stero-typical role of ‘environmentalism’. We don't want wildlife overpass construction to threaten the wetlands in Targhee Pass and Howard Springs and Creek. We are standing against the destruction of a beautiful pass and landscape that was carved through the mountains by The Finger of God. We hold steadfast to the conviction that recognizes we are the fortunate ones, who get to live here and act as stewards of this unique place for our own short periods of mortality, tasked with protecting a future for generations to come.
The IPSWP advocacy, the ‘flagship' initiative of Y2Y into Idaho, who has joined with the GYC and federal and state agency partners have dreamed this whole thing up….and this time it is they who are the ‘threatening developers’.
They are dressing their effort up in a wildlife safety campaign, call it what they will, but unwanted development is what they are championing. What an upside down! These are the groups who usually are activists working from the position we now hold. That is a rich irony indeed.
Jean Bjerke stated in this past Monday commissioner meeting that “Ken Watts, Leanne Yancey, and Ralph Kincheloe do not speak for me”. True statement, I do not, we do not.
There should be a few beautiful places left in the world where development and the future does not devour tradition and a view back to the Rich History that made us. The West is disappearing, and you wont find it in the tourist shops marketing cowboy hats and stuffed bears. There is a need to protect people and tradition, places and a lifestyle, where a quiet and free life can still be found. Wide open views should still exist to pleasure our senses without stark manmade structures obstructing them from our eyes. There should still be a wild place where humans and beautiful natural creatures coexist, where wildlife can move freely and by choice even outside of a cabin built in the trees, and solitude can be found on a pathway that is not designated or restricted.
Island Park is that place.
I believe that I, and the people who have joined together as the IPPC speak for The Voice that has been denied and ignored, The Voice that supports our elected leadership in this effort, and that together we all want to continue to speak up and keep Island Park…Island Park. The IPPC does not meet in private places and we do not work in ‘quiet coalition” partnerships with any state or federal agency or NGO holding a checkbook connected to a federal bank account.
In addition to this letter I wish to speak strongly against a false rumor that has come to my attention. I am told it is being widely circulated in Island Park. Someone has stated falsely that Kim Trotter, US Program Director of Y2Y, has received death threats from Fremont County residents (an inference was also given toward the IPPC in that regard). Supposedly, this threat was reported to our local sheriff, and that Ms. Trotter was advised by local law enforcement to not attend public meetings for her own safety. We were very concerned when we heard this. We contacted the FC Commissioners about it. They were very concerned. So concerned, that they contacted both the Fremont County and Teton County Sheriff’s Departments and asked if this was indeed true? Both Sheriff’s departments reported back to the commissioners that they had not received any such call or report of such a threat to this person, had not spoken to her, nor have they offered her any such advice.
Why would anyone initiate such a potentially damaging and untrue rumor into our community?
Reprinted with permission from the IP News June 28, 2018 issue
Making Sense of It All
This blog will help you make sense out of all the information on the website, how it affects IP, previous articles in the IP News, our history, and how efforts continue to put IP into various forms of conservation status.